The terrorists who had stormed the Pathankot air base were "well trained" and "strongly stocked" with arms and ammunition to inflict heavy damage to the assets stationed there and that explains the long counter-terror operations going on against them, top government sources said.
They also attributed the long period of operation, which has lasted for three days, to strict instructions by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar not to take "unnecessary risks" to avoid casualties.
They added that the effort was also to catch at least one of the terrorists alive, if possible.
Explaining why seven security personnel have been killed, the sources said, "The first five Defence Security Corps personnel were killed when the terrorists attacked a rest room at 3:30 am where a shift change was happening. Despite that one of the DAC guards killed a terrorist with his own gun before being killed.
"We lost one Garud commando in the operation in the gun fight. The killing of an NSG Lt Col was just bad luck as he died while removing a terrorist body".
The sources maintained that the terrorists' plan to inflict heavy damage to the IAF assets, MiG 21 fighter aircraft and Mi 25 attack choppers, stationed at the base had been countered.
They said that the terrorists were "better trained than the 2008 Mumbai terror attackers".
Asked why the operation has taken so much time, the sources said both Modi and Parrikar had given clear instructions that "unnecessary risks" should not be taken.
"The operation taking time is not the issue. The main aim was to ensure low casualties from our side and to get at least one of the terrorists alive," the top government sources said.
They added that the terrorist were carrying AK47s, Under Barrel Grenade Launchers (UBGL), 52 MM mortars and GPS locators.
The sources also said that the aim of the Pathankot attack and the one in Afghanistan was to derail the Indo-Pak talks.
Image: Army soldiers conduct a search operation in a forest area outside the Air Force Base in Pathankot on Sunday. Photograph: PTI Photo