ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Aug. 17 (UPI) -- Washington has no cause for concern for now about the safety of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal following a militant attack on its air base, a U.S. official said.
Questions about the protection of Pakistan's nuclear weapons arose after a group of heavily armed militants early Thursday broke through security at Pakistan's Minhas air force base in Kamra in Punjab province and engaged security forces at the facility in a gun battle. The attack ended after the security forces killed eight of the militants while losing one of their own. One plane was damaged.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, when asked about the attack and its implications, said Islamabad in a statement denied there was any nuclear material or any nuclear weapons at the base, adding the United States has no information to contradict that statement.
She said Pakistan, aware of the range of potential threats to its nuclear arsenal, has secured its nuclear arsenal accordingly.
"We do talk about these issues and support Pakistani efforts to keep them secure, and we have for quite a long, long time," Nuland said. "And we don't have any reason to be concerned at this moment."
The New York Times quoted Pakistani authorities as saying they believe Islamic militants were responsible for the attack on the base, northwest of Islamabad, which again pointed to the militants' determination to attack the country's sensitive installations.
In May 2011, militants attacked a military base in Pakistan's port city of Karachi, leaving 10 people dead.
Thursday's attack happened at a time when there is speculation the Pakistani military may be readying for an operation in the North Waziristan tribal area, which U.S. officials say they believe is a haven for the Haqqani network and other militant groups to launch attacks on American forces in neighboring Afghanistan.
The Washington Post reported the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, with a spokesman, Ihsanullah Ihsan, saying it was to avenge military actions in the tribal areas of northwestern Pakistan.
Ihsan claimed "dozens of security people" died in the attack, adding: "We could do anything and target whatever we want. Our fighters can hit any target anywhere."
Security analysts told the Post it was not true nuclear assets were kept at the base.
"Nuclear assets management is totally a separate issue and is being dealt with separately," one analyst said.
Britain's Daily Telegraph said the Thursday incident was the third attack on the air base since 2007, and was also the most audacious.
The report said Shaun Gregory at Bradford University's Pakistan Security Research Unit had warned -- after the most recent attack prior to Thursday -- that terrorist attacks could set off fires or explosions at Pakistani bases, thereby by posing radiological threats or lead to seizure of vital components by militants for creating their own weapon.
"Questions will be raised about nuclear weapons -- though the militants were stopped, they entered a high security area and kept security forces engaged for more than 2 hours," security analyst Hasan Askari Rizvi told the Los Angeles Times, "That means the government of Pakistan and the military will have to address the lapses and weaknesses that exist in their security systems."
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