Military attack helicopters hovered overhead while commandos sporadically fired at specific targets on Tuesday in what appeared to be a mop-up operation after security forces gunned down six Pakistani terrorists who had laid a siege on Pathankot air base.
On Day 4 of the daring attack by terrorists trying to disrupt India’s peace initiative with traditionally hostile neighbour Pakistan, armoured vehicles and trucks carrying soldiers entered and exited the base amid a concerted combing operation to ensure the defence installation is properly secured.
There were reports of an unidentified body being recovered but it could not be confirmed if it belonged to the sixth terrorist. Also, it was not clear whether all the intruders have been eliminated.
Spent bullet shells were littered residential buildings of the air base, pointing to a fierce gunbattle over the past three days.
Defence minister Manohar Parrikar will visit the Pathankot air force base in the afternoon to assess the situation. Indian Army chief General Dalbir Singh and IAF chief Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha will accompany the minister. The top military brass will also meet the families of martyrs.
Combing and search operations will continue till “we are able to fully render the base safe”, National Security Guard IG Major General Dushant Singh said.
Following a meeting of the National Security Council chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, finance minister Arun Jaitley said on Monday assets at the base were safe.
Security forces were able to confine the terrorists to the point at which they had intruded and held them at a “reasonable distance” from where the assets were located, the senior minister said.
In the wake of the Pathankot attack as well as the strike on the Indian consulate in Mazar-e-Sharif in
Afghanistan, both probably originating in Pakistan, indications were that next week’s scheduled visit by foreign secretary S Jaishankar to Islamabad for talks will be put off.
It is likely that the national security advisers of the two countries may have an urgent meeting in the next few days after which a call would be taken on the foreign secretary-level talks.