PATHANKOT, India – Indian forces have killed the last of the six militants who attacked an air force base near the Pakistan border over the weekend, the defense minister said Tuesday, though soldiers were still searching the base as a precaution.
Manohar Parrikar stopped short of saying the operation had ended, but Indian officials have said repeatedly that only six gunmen were involved.
Parrikar did not explain how just a handful of gunmen managed to paralyze a large Indian air base for almost four days, insisting that security forces had done "a commendable job." Seven Indian soldiers were killed during the attack.
"I see some gaps (in intelligence) but we will be able to understand only after the investigation. But I don't think we compromised on security," he told reporters after touring the scene of the fighting. He noted that the base is large, and is wooded in some places, making it difficult to pin down the gunmen.
Indian officials had been warned beforehand that an attack could be imminent at the Pathankot base, and had flown commandoes there in case of trouble. The warning came after the gunmen kidnapped an off-duty policeman near the base two days before the attack began, apparently to steal his vehicle. The policeman was freed the next day, and warned security forces that a team of heavily armed militants was in the region.
Parrikar said the militants' weapons included AK-47 assault rifles with makeshift rocket launchers attached, mortar rounds that could be fired from the launchers, pistols, and 110-130 pounds of ammunition.
In the first known claim of responsibility, the United Jehad Council, an alliance of 13 Kashmir-based rebel groups, claimed that its "highway squad," which normally attacks military convoys, carried out the attack.
Alliance spokesman Syed Sadaqat Hussain said in a statement to Current News Service, which is based in the Indian portion of Kashmir, that the attack was a message to India that its security forces were not beyond the militants' reach.
The council is based in Pakistan's portion of Kashmir, the Himalayan region divided between the countries but claimed in its entirety by both.
Sharad Kumar, chief of India's National Investigation Agency, has said that telephone intercepts suggested the attackers were from Pakistan. He gave no details on those intercepts in an interview Tuesday with the television news channel TimesNow.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke to his Pakistani counterpart, Modi's office said in a statement, saying the Indian prime minister called on Pakistan "to take firm and immediate action" against those linked to the attackers. "Specific and actionable information in this regard has been provided to Pakistan," the statement added.
Pakistani officials confirmed Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had spoken to Modi, expressing his sadness over the attack and saying Pakistan would investigate any information that India provides.
Sharif also told Modi that the militants wanted to derail the Pakistan-India peace process, according to Pakistani Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid.
The attack followed Modi's surprise recent visit to Pakistan and came days before top foreign ministry officials were to meet in Islamabad to discuss a range of outstanding issues, including Kashmir.
India accuses Pakistan of arming and training insurgents in its portion of Kashmir. Pakistan denies that and says it only provides moral and diplomatic support.