11 dead in attacks on air force bases in Pakistan's Quetta

QUETTA Pakistan Fri Aug 15, 2014 11:49pm IST

QUETTA Pakistan (Reuters) - Eleven Taliban-linked militants were killed and 13 members of the Pakistani security forces wounded in attacks on two air force bases in the west Pakistan city of Quetta on Thursday, officials said.

The attackers did not get inside either facility, but the raids marked the third time since June that Pakistani airports had been targeted. They will raise more questions about how secure such facilities are.

Pakistan's military has been fighting an offensive against the Taliban insurgency in the remote, largely lawless region of North Waziristan on the Afghanistan border since June. A wing of the Pakistani Taliban said they had carried out Thursday night's raids in response to that offensive.

"It is a revenge for the army's killing of innocent people in North and South Waziristan," said Ghalib Mehsud, who said he was a commander and spokesman for the Fidayeen Islam, a Taliban wing responsible for training suicide bombers. "There will be more attacks in coming days."

The military says hundreds of militants have been killed during the much-anticipated offensive. Residents say some civilians have also died in frequent air raids.

Access to North Waziristan is tightly controlled and it is impossible to verify the military's casualty figures.

The military said five of the attackers in Thursday night's raids were killed at the Samungli air force base, which shares a runway with the civilian airport in Quetta. The city has long been used as a base by the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban.

More were killed at Khalid air force base, said provincial Inspector General Muhammad Amlish. Samungli is on the western edge of Quetta, Khalid to the north.

Residents near the Samungli base said they heard at least eight blasts and gunfire that continued for around half an hour, as well as helicopters buzzing overhead. Amlish said the militants fired rocket-propelled grenades and two suicide bombers blew themselves up at Samungli in an effort to get inside.

He said residents had also alerted police to a suspect vehicle near the Khalid air base. Four bombs were defused there, said Sarfraz Bugti, home minister in the provincial government of Baluchistan.

The military said that three militants were captured.

The attackers were mostly believed to be ethnic Uzbeks, said Lt. General Nasir Khan Janjua.

In June, Taliban and Uzbek militants killed 30 people at the airport in Karachi, the southern city that is home to 18 million people. The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan is allied to the Taliban and shares their refuges in North Waziristan.

The Karachi attack followed months of faltering peace talks between the government and the Taliban. The Taliban had refused to renounce violence while the talks were underway.

Days after the Karachi airport attack, the military launched its long-awaited offensive in North Waziristan, a region considered the Taliban's major stronghold. Pakistan's allies, including the United States, had long urged the military to move against Taliban havens there.

The same month, militants fired on a plane landing in Peshawar, a provincial capital in the northwest, killing one woman passenger and narrowly missing the pilot. Peshawar airport was also attacked in 2012, when nine people were killed.

In 2012, nine people were killed in an attack on an air force base in the northern city of Kamra.

Pakistan's government and military are fighting a home-grown insurgency, but Quetta is also a stronghold for the Afghan Taliban. Their leadership fled there after their government was toppled by U.S.-backed Afghan forces in late 2001.

More recently, the attention of Pakistani security agencies has been focused on two large anti-government protests that are due to reach the capital on Friday.

Opposition politician Imran Khan and cleric Tahir ul-Qadri have said they want to force the government to step down and will camp out in the streets of the capital until it does so.

(Writing by Katharine Houreld; Editing by Paul Tait, Larry King)

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