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Taliban attacks major Pakistani air base, 10 dead

Armed militants stormed a Pakistani air force base on Thursday, sparking clashes that left 10 people dead renewing questions about the security of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal. 

By Qasim NaumanReuters / August 16, 2012

Paramilitary soldiers guard near the main entrance of a Pakistani air force base in the town of Kamra in Punjab province on August 16. Suspected Islamist militants attacked the air force base in central Pakistan early on Thursday, the air force said.

Mian Khursheed/REUTERS

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KAMRA, Pakistan

Islamist militants armed with rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons fought their way into one of Pakistan's largest air bases on Thursday, the air force said, in a brazen challenge to the nuclear-armed country's powerful military.

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The attack was repelled and only one aircraft was damaged, said an air force spokesman, adding that the Minhas air base at Kamra, in central Punjab province, did not house nuclear weapons.

"No air base is a nuclear air base in Pakistan," he said.

The gunbattle raged for hours, and eight militants and one soldier were killed, the spokesman said. Commandos were called in to reinforce and police armored personnel carriers could be seen heading into the base.

Pakistan's Taliban movement, which is close to Al Qaeda and seen as the biggest security threat to the South Asian nation, claimed responsibility for the assault.

"We are proud of this operation. Our leadership had decided to attack Kamra base a long time ago," Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan said by telephone from an undisclosed location.

What happened

The militants moved through a nearby village under cover of darkness and climbed a nine foot wall strung with barbed wire to break into the base, the air force spokesman said. Some were wearing military uniforms.

The assault cast doubts over official assertions that military operations had severely weakened militants waging a violent campaign to topple the US-backed government and impose strict Islamic rule.

Security forces opened fire when militants strapped with suicide bombing vests approached aircraft hangars, prompting other militants to fire rocket-propelled grenades from outside the base's walls, said the air force spokesman.

Base commander Air Commodore Muhammad Azam, who led the operation against the attackers, was shot in the shoulder, but is in stable condition, said spokesman Captain Tariq Mahmood.

Search operations for any other militants who may have been hiding in the complex after the attack had ended, he said.

About an hour later, a series of small explosions could be heard as homemade bombs planted on the base by the militants were detonated by the military.

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