The Pakistani military said it had successfully repelled an attack by militants on an air base in central Pakistan on Saturday. But the episode, which came just after another brazen assault on the military, has renewed concerns about the precarious security situation in the country.
The attempt to breach the Mianwali Training Air Base occurred a day after 14 soldiers traveling in a convoy were ambushed and killed in Baluchistan Province, in the southwest. No group has claimed responsibility for that attack. Tehreek-e-Jihad Pakistan, an obscure militant group, claimed responsibility for the assault on the air base, saying its aim was to destroy aircraft that it said had been used against civilians. The claim could not immediately be verified.
Defense analysts in Pakistan have noted a worrying trend of increased assaults on military targets. More broadly, extremist violence in the country has increased substantially since the 2021 Taliban takeover of neighboring Afghanistan. That has fed growing tensions between the Pakistani government and Taliban officials, who have rejected Pakistani accusations of providing shelter to militant groups, including their ally, the Pakistani Taliban.
According to military officials, the attack on the air base, which is considered a highly secure facility, began around 3 a.m., when the assailants used a ladder to scale a wall. By midday, all nine attackers had been killed. The fighter jets on the air base, which are stored inside concrete hangars, escaped harm, but three other aircraft described as nonoperational were damaged. It was not clear if those defending the air base suffered any casualties.
M. Ashfaque Arain, a retired air marshal, called the attacks “a worrying development” that could be linked to the activation of sleeper cells and a reaction to the recent deportation of Afghans living illegally in Pakistan.
Last month, the Pakistani authorities, in a major policy shift, told all foreign citizens living in the country without documents to leave the country by Nov. 1. The policy is largely believed to be targeting Afghans, and more than 70,000 of them have left in recent weeks, many of whom had fled the Taliban and some of whom had been living in Pakistan for decades.
Shafaat Shah, a retired lieutenant general, also noted that the timing of the attacks aligned with the deadline set by Pakistan and described a recent statement by the Taliban’s acting defense minister warning of consequences from the deportation move as “an open threat.”
Mr. Arain said the attack on the air base was significant because the facility is used for advanced fighter aircraft training. Its proximity to Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province, which has experienced a surge in Taliban-related violence in recent months and is a longstanding target of militant attacks, added to its strategic importance.
There was some speculation that the uptick in violence could affect and further delay general elections. They were initially set to be held by this month, but the political crisis that came after the removal of Imran Khan in 2022 as prime minister caused a delay. Mr. Khan is in jail, facing a range of legal cases including corruption and sedition, all of which he denies.
After months of uncertainty about the polls, the country’s election commission announced on Thursday that elections would be held on Feb. 8.