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Pathankot airbase had 6 terrorists; was in full command: NSG

Air Force base that was attacked by militants in Pathankot

New Delhi  :  NSG today said there were two heavily armed terrorists hiding inside the Pathankot IAF base, apart from the four killed, even as it refuted reports about confusion in command, saying it takes “complete control” of the situation when deployed for counter-terror operations anywhere in the country.

“According to us, there were four plus two (terrorists). But, it is for the investigating agency…it is for the NIA to investigate and come up with factual details,” NSG Director General R C Tayal told reporters on the sidelines of an international seminar on the menace of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) being held here.

Stating that terrorists “came over” from Pakistan, the National Security Guard chief asserted that his strike teams had been fired upon from inside an airmen barrack which they were about to enter.

The January 2 attack on the forward air force base, which houses fighter jet planes and attack helicopters, had left seven security personnel dead.

Security forces had recovered four bodies of terrorists and there has been speculation since about the possibility of some others getting killed and ‘melting up’ in a building which was blown up by NSG using heavy explosives.

Tayal said he had “basis” for this assertion. “NSG teams reached the airmen barrack. The commandos knocked but the door was closed from inside…We put some wall radar and got indication that someone is inside. A grenade was lobbed from inside in which five commandos got injuries and one got serious injuries.

“According to us, weapons were with them (two terrorists) as we were getting firing from inside. Besides weapons, they were carrying large quantity of explosives too,” he said when asked about the forces’ logic to arrive at a definite number of two more terrorists being holed up.

The DG, however, said none of his ‘black cat’ commandos saw the hiding terrorists as continuous firing was taking place.

“Only thing we got to know was when we went to place the ‘wall through radar’ we heard a voice inside saying that NSG has come. The radar gives indication if there is any movement inside. It does not indicate exactly if there is a human being, but it indicates movement,” he said.

Tayal also refuted allegations of lack of coordination among agencies like Indian Air Force, Army, Punjab police and the NSG which were on ground to combat the attack, asserting the elite force was in full command.

“Let me clarify, the NSG standard operating procedure is very clear. It is that if NSG is deployed at a place where terrorist incident takes place, it is NSG that controls the situation. There is no confusion about it.

“There was absolutely no confusion about the chain of command. All the agencies were working with a good synergy. The central government can deploy NSG suo motu or on request of the state government but the fact remains that once NSG is deployed to control a situation, the NSG is given complete control over that situation and not the whole area,” he said.

The NSG DG said they received pistol fire from inside the airmen barrack and as they were wanting to clear the building after evacuating some IAF security men present there, they found there was something “suspicious” on the ground floor.

Officials supervising the operation said there were as many as 57 explosions in that building and that indicates there was heavy ammunition present in the complex which is just meant for housing IAF personnel.

The radar showed, an official said, that people present inside had stacked up ‘charpoys’ and almirahs against the gate in order to prevent any entry.

Tayal said while they were “not sure” on the exact number of terrorists who had sneaked into the IAF base, there were some indications that showed that they entered the campus by cutting concertina wires placed for periphery security.

“But, whether four or six entered or two came separately, that is for the investigators to find,” he said.

Tayal said the aim of the terrorists was to blow up IAF aircraft, radars and other vital assets.

“In this case, I am more or less certain that the target was not to kill people but the aim was to destroy assets (of IAF). Had they (terrorists) intended to kill people, then the whole day was with them and more than 10,000 people stay in the base. So, the target was very clear. Go to the assets and destroy the assets,” he said.

These, he said, were not very far off from the place where they were hiding.

“I will call it an excellent operation. Why? because terrorists came out at 0245 hours (on January 2) from their hideout (inside the IAF base) and they were encountered at 0250 hours…the entire surprise was on our side. So, it was an excellent decision to pre-deploy NSG at the IAF base. It was a timely and excellent decision and it saved the day.

“Fact remains that this is perhaps the first terrorist incident where NSG was sent in advance. NSG is best suited for these kind of operations as it was an area inhabited by people and was built-up. NSG is trained for these type of operations only. NSG was best suited for Pathankot operation and it was excellent decision on the part of the government to deploy NSG even before they (terrorists) could strike,” he said.

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