Center for Strategic Communication

A Taliban suicide assault team attacked a Pakistani airbase in Punjab province that is known to house nuclear weapons. The base has come under attack in the past.

The assault team, which is reported to have up to nine members, attacked the Kamra Air Force Base in Attock district in Punjab at 2:30 a.m. on Aug. 16, according to Dawn. The terrorist team was wearing military uniforms and was “armed with automatic weapons, grenades and suicide vests.”

The gunmen opened fire after being stopped at a checkpoint and then reportedly fought their way to the airstrip, where some 30 fighter and attack aircraft are kept, according to reports. Pakistani Army commandos and Air Force security personnel engaged and killed six members of the suicide assault team, according to SAMAA. One of those killed was said to be a “foreigner,” but his identity and country of origin have not been disclosed.“>Three Pakistani soldiers and two airmen were killed and an Air Commodore was wounded during the fighting. One JF-17 Thunder fighter was damaged in the attack.

The Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan’s (TTP) spokesman, Ihsanullah Ihsan, told Dawn that the group was responsible for the attack and said it was executed “to avenge the deaths of Osama bin Laden, the TTP Emir Baitullah Mehsud and other fighters who had been killed by the Pakistani security forces.” He also said nine attackers were involved in a two-pronged attack.

“The attack was launched from two different sides,” Ihsan said. “A team of four members entered from one side and five from the other and than they launched a collective attack inside the camp.”

Pakistani intelligence had information that an attack of this nature was being planned. The On Aug. 1, The Express Tribune reported that Hakeemullah Mehsud, the leader of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, had allocated funds to attack “PAF base Lahore, the Inter-Services Intelligence, Military Intelligence, Intelligence Bureau and the Counter Terrorism Department office in the province.”

The Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan has conducted numerous attacks against government installations in Punjab in the past. In July, the group executed two attacks in Punjab against security personnel. On July 12, the Taliban claimed credit for an attack that day on a police facility in Lahore that killed eight policemen, as well as a July 9 attack in Gurjat that killed six soldiers and a policeman.

The attack at Kamra Air Force Base is similar to another assault, which took place on May 22, 2011 at Pakistani Naval Station Mehran in Karachi. During that assault, the Taliban destroyed two US-made P-3C Orion maritime surveillance planes and damaged another, and killed 10 Pakistani troops.

Another brazen attack took place at Army General Headquarters in Rawalpindi on Oct. 10, 2009. A suicide assault team stormed the facility and took control of several buildings before being killed. Six Pakistani soldiers, including a brigadier general and a lieutenant colonel, and four terrorists were killed during the siege.

The Taliban have conducted an attack once before at Kamra Air Force Base, in December 2007. A suicide bomber wounded seven Pakistani personnel in that attack. Additionally, suicide bombers have conducted attacks at a nearby weapons facility thought to be associated with Pakistan’s nuclear program.

In August 2008, two Taliban suicide bombers killed 70 Pakistani employees when the bombers detonated outside the gates of the Wah Cantt. And in October 2009, a suicide bomber struck at the nearby Kamra Air Weapon Complex, killing four civilians. The Kamra facility is one of three military industrial production facilities in the Wah Cantt and is believed to be connected with Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program. Components for nuclear weapons are thought to be stored at the facility disassembled, and can be assembled within hours of needed use.

Suicide bombers have also conducted an attack at the Sargodha Air Force Base, in November 2007. In that attack, a suicide bomber drove his motorcycle into a bus carrying military and intelligence officers at the air base, killing eight Pakistanis. The Sargodha Air Force Base is the headquarters of the Central Air Command and houses nuclear-capable F-16 strike aircraft and ballistic missiles. Nuclear weapons are also thought to be stored at the base.

In the past, the Pakistani government and the military have issued multiple statements assuring the Pakistani people and the West that the country’s nuclear weapons are safeguarded and incapable of falling into the hands of terrorists. The US government has alternated between expressing confidence and voicing concern over the security of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons.