Indian forces search for suspected last attacker at air base

PATHANKOT: Indian forces searched Tuesday for the last suspected gunman in an attack at air force base near the Pakistan border that has lasted for four days and left seven government troops dead.

Air force spokeswoman Rochelle D'Silva said Tuesday "there has been no firing since Monday night at the base." Indian security forces say they have killed five attackers, with the last one shot dead on Monday.

No one has claimed responsibility for the attack that started Saturday morning, but Sharad Kumar, chief of India's National Investigation Agency, said a preliminary investigation based on telephone intercepts suggested the attackers were from Pakistan. He did not give details in an interview with a television news channel TimesNow on Tuesday.

A Pakistan Foreign Ministry statement on Monday said the government was in touch with the Indian government and "is working on the leads provided by it."

"The challenge of terrorism calls for strengthening our resolve to a cooperative approach," the statement said.

The attack also comes ahead of a meeting between top foreign ministry bureaucrats of the two countries in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, on January 15 to discuss steps to settle outstanding issues, including the long-lingering dispute over Kashmir, which is roughly split between the countries but claimed in whole by both.

The search operations at Pathankot air force base will continue until all areas have been completely secured, Maj. Gen. Dushyant Singh, from India's National Security Guard, told reporters. The attack has dragged on since early Saturday morning as troops struggled to find the heavily armed attackers in the sprawling base. At least twice it has 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 still exchanging gunfire with troops as of Monday morning. By evening one had been shot dead, Singh said.

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. It is spread over more than 2,000 acres, including forests and fields.

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 said no military hardware was damaged in the fighting.