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Pakistan: Attack on Military Base in Kamra

In the early hours of August 16, 2012, gunmen launched an attack on Minhas, a high value air force base located in Kamra, near the capital Islamabad in Pakistan. After a fierce battle that lasted five hours, Pakistan's military was able to regain control of the base.

The attack

At 2 am several militants wearing military uniforms and suicide belts stormed the base and reportedly hurled grenades and used RPGs, one of which damaged a plane. The operation by the Pakistani army pinned the terrorists to a corner of the facility, where nine attackers were killed. Later a search operation was launched in the area to apprehended any other possible suspects. The Pakistani Air Force (PAF) confirmed that one soldier was killed and the base commander who was leading the counter-attack was injured.

Tehreek-i-Taliban claim responsibility

Within hours of the attack, Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan, an umbrella organization of multiple Islamist militant organizations accepted responsibility for the attack, stating that it was to avenge the killings of Baitullah Mehsud and Osama bin Laden.

In the recent past, Pakistan army has contemplated initiating an operation in the North Waziristan region, which is considered a stronghold of Taliban in Pakistan. Pakistan army's chief, General Kiyani, in a recent statement said that this war was our own and that ending the scourge of terrorism and militancy was absolutely essential for the country.

As if in response to the planned North Waziristan assault, Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), launched this attack on Pakistan Air Force's Minhas base. The base in Kamra is considered one of the most significant and important facilities of PAF, particularly because it hosts a number of jets and a nearly Aeronautical Complex is the manufacturing site of these jets.

Faizan Lakhani tweeted:

 Two days before #KamraAttack USA claimed that Pakistan will soon launch operation against militants in North Waziristan. Possible reaction?

TV channels started reporting on the attack instantly and social media was abuzz with the news and updates were actively shared.

Pakistan Air Force (PAF) assembles the first Pakistani-built JF-17 Thunder combat aircraft in Kamra Airbase. Image by Sajjad Ali Qureshi. Copyright Demotix (29/6/2009)

Madeeha Syed reported:

#Kamra Airbase (also known as Minhas Airbase after Pilot Officer Rashid Minhas Shaheed) is currently under attack #Attock #Punjab #Pakistan.”

Karachi Post hinted at why the Minhas Air Base is a critically important facility:

 ”Base is home to Pakistan's most prized aviation asset the Saab 2000, which costs $300 Million dollars each, #PAF has 4 Saab 2000 #Kamra.”

The bigger picture

Intel reports in the past had signalled that such an attack on the Air Base in Kamra was expected. While some tried to call it an intelligence failure, a number of reports until very recently suggested that intelligence agencies were well aware of the threat. It is precisely for this reason that security, it is reported, was on high alert in the base.

Usman Zafar said:

 #KamraAttack: The assault had been anticipated by intel reports before. Tribune report on Aug 10 warned of attack on 16th: http://bit.ly/NijEST 

A similar attack was launched last year on the PNS Mehran Base in Karachi, another high-value facility for the Pakistan military. The base incurred significant losses, both in term of human lives and destruction of planes and equipment. That time it took the military 17 hours to regain control. It was reported by Journalist Saleem Shahzad that the attack was made possible by inside help from PNS's own officials. Shahzad was later found murdered and his death was largely blamed on Pakistan's intelligence agencies. In that vein, Umar Cheema wrote:

#KamraAttack couldn't have been carried out without cooperation from people within security forces. Those think otherwise must wait!

In a letter to the editor of the Express Tribune titled ‘Kamra attack — so who is our real enemy?', a retired Pakistani army officer writes:

The initiation of army operations in North Waziristan may not necessarily guarantee victory in the war on terror but the inability and unwillingness of the army to do this is surely a guarantee of failure/defeat. Destroying safe heavens in Fata is central to the military making any headway in the war on terror [...] Attacks like the one on Kamra are only a reminder to the armed forces, the public and their elected representatives that this war is very much our own and we will not win it unless we don’t fight it.

Additional input by Sahar Habib Ghazi.

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