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One gunmen remain at loose at Pathanakot Airbase

05 January, 2016

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PATHANKOT: A fifth gunman was killed Monday on the third day of a siege at the heavily fortified Pathankot Indian air base and at least one attacker remained as troops worked to secure the sprawling compound, a military official said. Seven troops have been killed.

The search operations at Pathankot air force base will continue until all areas have been completely secured, Maj Gen Dushyant Singh, from India's elite National Security Guard, told reporters.

The attack has dragged on since early Saturday morning as government troops struggle to contain the heavily armed attackers.

At least twice over the weekend it appeared that the attack had ended but fresh gunfire and explosions erupted both times.

Four attackers were reported killed by Saturday evening, and at least two were said to have been exchanging gunfire with troops as of Monday morning. By evening one had been shot dead, Singh said.

Defence officials have said authorities had been alerted about a potential attack in the area on Friday, and that aerial surveillance at the base spotted the gunmen as they entered the compound, leading to criticism of the handling of the situation.

Singh told reporters in Pathankot that it will take a "long time" to declare the base completely secure because of its size and geography. It is spread over more than 2,000 acres, including forests and tall grass.

The commanding officer of the base, Lt Col J.S. Dhamoon, described it as a "mini-city" with homes and a school for the children of the personnel stationed there.

An army statement said the last gunmen were firing from a building that is part of the living quarters on the base.

The base has a fleet of India's Russian-origin MiG-21 fighter jets and Mi-25 and Mi-35 attack helicopters, along with other military hardware. Officials have said no military hardware has been damaged in the fighting.

Military funerals were held Monday for the soldiers who were killed in the attack. Their killings inside a military base despite intelligence alerts have angered many in India.

"The biggest problem is the multiplicity of command and control. Nobody knows who is really in charge," said Rahul Bedi, an analyst for Jane's Information Group.

The Pathankot base and the northern state of Punjab, where it is located, has "probably the highest concentration of military personnel in India because it's so close to the border with Pakistan," Bedi said. "It's a huge embarrassment," he said. "It's a major goof-up for everybody."

Since Saturday morning, the base has been swarming with air force commandos, army soldiers, National Security Guard troops and local police.

Officials, however, have refused to say how many security personnel were involved in the engagement.

The base is on the highway that connects India-held Kashmir (IHK) with the rest of the country. It is also very close to the shared border with Pakistan.

An alliance of Kashmiri militant groups, the United Jihad Council (UJC) on Monday claimed responsibility for the attack.

The UJC in a statement said that the attack was a message to India that Kashmiri fighters could strike at any sensitive installation across India.

"Pathankot air base attack has been carried out by the mujahideen associated with National Highway Squad," said Syed Sadaqat Hussain, a spokesman for UJC.

"Pakistan has nothing to do with the attack but ironically the Indian government, media and their armed forces are suffering from Pakistan phobia," added the UJC spokesman.

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