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After two hours, the security forces retook the base. By the end of the battle, one soldier and nine militants were killed, one of them when he blew himself up outside the base perimeter, the air force said. The commander in charge of the base was wounded in the shoulder.

The Taliban have carried out several startling raids on military facilities in the past.

Half a dozen Taliban militants attacked a major naval base in the southern port city of Karachi in May 2011, killing at least 10 people and destroying two U.S.-supplied surveillance aircraft.

It took Pakistani commandos 18 hours to retake Naval Station Mehran, and two of the attackers escaped. That the attackers managed to infiltrate so deep into the high-security base led to speculation they may have had inside information or assistance.

In 2009, militants dressed in fatigues attacked army headquarters in the city of Rawalpindi, just outside Islamabad, and took 30 people hostage. Pakistani commandos finally raided the compound 22 hours later. Three captives and four militants were among those killed.

There have been at least three attacks in the vicinity of the Minhas base since 2007, but all of them occurred outside the installation.

In Thursday’s sectarian attack, gunmen forced 20 Shiites off three buses in the Naran Valley in northern Pakistan, shot and killed them, said a police official. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was worried about retribution.

The victims were traveling from Rawalpindi to Gilgit, a mostly Shiite area, according to Gilgit’s deputy police inspector general, Ali Sher.

Later, two gunmen on a motorcycle shot and killed three Shiites in Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan province in southwest Pakistan, said police officer Shaukat Ali.

There have been several such sectarian attacks in the past by Sunni extremists who do not view Shiites as true Muslims. In February gunmen killed 16 Shiites in the city of Manshera. In April, violence between Sunnis and Shiites killed 14 people in and around Gilgit.

The attacks rarely elicit a strong response from the government of this Sunni-dominated country, and the military almost never launches military operations in response.

“The army has definitely not made it a cause that they have to defend the Shiites,” said Khalid Ahmed, a Pakistani scholar whose book “Sectarian War” investigates the country’s Sunni-Shiite divide.

The political parties rarely take up the cause because some of the Sunni groups have significant mainstream support, he said.

Santana reported from Islamabad. Associated Press writers Asif Shahzad and Munir Ahmed in Islamabad, Riaz Khan in Peshawar and Abdul Sattar in Quetta contributed to this report.