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Attack on Indian air base near Pakistan border leaves troops, militants dead

An assault on an Indian air base near the Pakistan border has been declared over, 14 hours after suspected Islamist militants attacked. Three security officials have been declared dead, with four attackers also dying.

While it remains unclear who was behind the shootout which begun at 3:30 a.m. Saturday (2200 UTC Friday) at Pathankot base in northern Punjab state, the attack threatens to undermine the fragile peace process between nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan.

The militants, suspected of being from the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed Islamist group, attacked the base - a rare targeting of Indian military installation outside the disputed Kashmir.

The attack comes just one week after India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi's trip to Pakistan, the first time an Indian leader has visited in 11 years. The two countries have fought three wars since independence from Britain in 1947.

On an official visit to the southern Indian city of Mysore on Saturday, Prime Minister Modi responded to the attack saying:

Airforce spokesperson Rochelle D'Silva said Saturday night soldiers were combing the entire Pathankot base to fully secure it. She added that the combing operation was expected to continue throughout the night, and that the full number of casualties would only be known once the base was completely secured.

Following the attack, Rajnath Singh, India's minister of home affairs was quoted as saying: “I congratulate our armed forces and other security forces on successfully neutralizing all the five terrorists in ‘Pathankot Operation'.”

Singh then tweeted his thanks to the officers involved.

Islamabad also condemned the attack, voicing optimism over continued dialogue with its long-time enemy.

“Building on the goodwill created during the recent high-level contacts between the two countries, Pakistan remains committed to partner with India…to completely eradicate the menace of terrorism afflicting our region,” a spokesperson for Pakistan's foreign ministry said Saturday.

The air base, located about 430 kilometers (267 miles) north of New Delhi, where the attack occurred, houses dozens of fighter jets and is important for its strategic location about 50 kilometers (30 miles) from the border with Pakistan.

jlw/rc (AFP, AP)

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