Troops retake naval base after 'humiliating' Taleban attack

Pakistani commandos yesterday regained control of a naval base from a team of Taleban militants who attacked and then occupied the high-security facility for 18 hours – an exceptionally audacious act of insurgent violence that dealt a humiliating blow to the military.

The attackers – thought to number around six – destroyed at least two US-supplied surveillance planes and killed ten security officers, officials said. At least four of the attackers were killed, and two others may have escaped, said Pakistan navy chief Nauman Bashir.

The Pakistani Taleban claimed responsibility for the assault in the city of Karachi. The militants said it was revenge for the killing of Osama bin Laden, and the insurgents were under orders to fight until the death.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"They do not want to come out alive, they have gone there to embrace martyrdom," said spokesman Ahsanullah Ahsan.

The insurgent team armed with grenades, rockets and automatic weapons stormed Naval Station Mehran under the cover of darkness late on Sunday, using ladders and cutting the wire to get into the facility, interior minister Rehman Malik said. Once inside, they scattered around the compound, setting off explosions and hiding in the sprawling facility.

Throughout yesterday, the militants were holed up in an office building in a gun battle with commandos, navy spokesman Irfan ul Haq said. Navy helicopters flew over the base, and snipers were seen on a runway control tower.

By the afternoon, Mr Haq said the militants had been defeated. "Thanks be to God, the base is cleared and the operation is over," he said.

Commandos leaving the complex flashed victory signs to reporters.

Mr Malik said he saw some of the bodies of the attackers, even showing a picture of one lying bloodied on the grass that he took with his cell phone. He said the were dressed in black and looked "like the Star Wars characters".

Six Americans and 11 Chinese aviation engineers were on the base but escaped unharmed, he said.

The insurgents' ability to penetrate the facility rattled a military establishment already embarrassed by the unilateral American raid on bin Laden and raised the possibility they had inside help.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

It will also likely lead to more questions over the safety of Pakistan's nuclear weapons. In 2009, Islamist terrorists stormed army headquarters close to the capital, holding hostages for 22 hours. However, unlike the attack on Sunday in Karachi, the attackers then failed to deeply penetrate the complex.

This is the third major attack the group has claimed since the bin Laden killing. The others were a car bombing that slightly injured American consulate workers in the northwest city of Peshawar and a twin suicide attack that killed around 90 Pakistani paramilitary police recruits.

At least two P-3C Orions, maritime surveillance aircraft given to Pakistan by the US and valued at $36 million each, were destroyed, he said. The US handed over two Orions to the Pakistani navy at a ceremony at the base in June 2010 attended by 250 Pakistani and American officials.

US Embassy spokesman Alberto Rodriguez said the Americans were working as contractors to help support the P-3C aircraft.

Also yesterday, Pakistani intelligence officials said a pair of suspected US missiles hit a vehicle and killed four people near the Afghan border.

The attack occurred in Machi Khel area in North Waziristan, a tribal region home to several militant groups attacking US forces in Afghanistan.

The US relies heavily on missile strikes to target foes in Pakistan. Pakistan objects to the attacks publicly, but is believed to support them in private.