Army commandos at the air force base in Pathankot on January 5, 2016. (AFP Photo)
Beside a burnt truck in the motor transport section of the Pathankot
Air Station, about a kilometer from the imposing, heavily-guarded main gate, lay a crumpled camouflage jacket. This is where Garud commando Gursewak Singh
fell fighting terrorists early on Saturday morning.
Not far from there, a group of about 50 commandos of the elite National Security Guards sat on the ground, their weapons on their laps or beside them. Most had removed their masks and none of them was talking.
Their faces betrayed no emotion, only extreme exhaustion. The three-and-a-half day gun battle to eliminate six terrorists who attacked the base had ended only a few hours before.
About a 100 metres away from the motor transport section is a wall of the sprawling air base. In some places it is as high as 10 feet and has concertina wires, a type of barbed wire. In other places, only wiring marks the boundary of the airfield.
Very close to the transport section is a row of neatly painted houses with manicured gardens. These are residential quarters for airmen and their families. On the road in front, chain tracks from armoured vehicles were still fresh. They led to the technical area, where, in an enclosure of about 15 feet by 20 feet neatly marked out by tape, lay the bodies of five terrorists. They were all in green military fatigues.
"There are some dugouts here, part of old structures and had very thick vegetation. Perhaps that is why the terrorists holed up here," a Garud commando in full battle gear, explained to reporters. "We used bulldozers to remove the vegetation as we moved slowly first to corner and then eliminate them."
It was here that Lieutenant Colonel Niranjan Kumar was killed
and his buddy seriously injured. A note circulated in the highest levels of the government says, "Lt Col Niranjan died accidentally when handling the dead body of a terrorist."
Most buildings in this part of the base were evacuated. "Had the terrorists got into residential quarters, we could have been looking at a hostage situation and casualties could have been huge," the Garud commando said.
When this reporter asked his name, he smiled and said, "operations are on, we don't wear name or rank tags."
Three blocks of living quarters separate an open ground and the Defence Security Corps (DSC) mess. Four soldiers were killed here when terrorists opened fire. "Havilder Jagdish of the DSC chased a terrorist and grappled with him bare-handed, killing him before he died," Air Commodore J S Dhamoon, who commands the base, said.
Diagonally opposite the DAC mess is the battered two-storied residential building where the last gun battle was fought. A portion of the building came down in the exchange of fire and multiple explosions. Burnt tree parts indicate the intensity of the operation to eliminate the last two terrorists; four had been killed on Saturday.
Firing had suddenly started from the first floor of this building on Monday. Nearly 24 hours later, hundreds of commandos and sniffer dogs were still checking the area for improvised explosive devices and booby traps.(Sudhi Ranjan Sen visited the base late on Tuesday evening)