Subscribe to updates

Monday, May 23, 2011

Taliban Fighters Storm Pakistani Naval Base

Armed with automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades, Taliban militants infiltrated a Pakistani naval air base in the Arabian Sea port of Karachi, setting off explosions that illuminated the night sky and sparking a 12-hour gun battle. At least seven people were killed, Pakistani officials said.
Agence France-Presse/Getty Images
Flames and smokes belched out early Monday from a Pakistani military air base after an attack by militants in Karachi that began Sunday.
The Pakistan Taliban, an offshoot of the Afghan insurgent movement, said its fighters attacked the base in revenge for the May 2 U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden, making Sunday's assault the second major strike by the militant group since the al Qaeda leader's death at the hands of an U.S. Navy SEAL team.
"We can attack anyone at any moment in Pakistan, Europe and America," said Pakistan Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Eshan in a telephone interview, adding that the assailants had supplies for three days of fighting.
The attack and the ensuing fight to clear the base, which was still going on 12 hours after the militants set off the first explosion, was quickly proving the latest in a series of embarrassments for Pakistan's military. The force is ordinarily accustomed to adulation from most Pakistanis, yet it has been subjected to a torrent of criticism for failing to detect or stop the U.S. raid against bin Laden, and, to a lesser extent, for not finding the al Qaeda leader itself.
By Monday morning, it was also facing a determined force of Taliban fighters inside the perimeter of a supposedly secure military base in Pakistan's largest city, raising questions about whether the attackers had help on the inside.
With the base sealed off by military authorities, there were conflicting and fragmented reports of what was taking place inside. Pakistan navy spokesman Irfan ul-Haq said between 10 and 15 militants had slipped into the base Sunday night. They then split into small groups and began setting off explosions shortly after 10:30 p.m. local time.
Shortly thereafter, Pakistan TV stations were broadcasting images of flames leaping from a hangar at the base, Pakistan Naval Station Mehran, which is located inside a larger air force base. One news channel, Epxress 24/7, reported as many as 13 explosions in the three hours after the fighting began. Witnesses reported lines of ambulances waiting to get into the base, and gunfire could be heard throughout the night.
Armed security forces preparing to enter the Mehran naval aviation base in Karachi, Pakistan, which was attacked by militants Sunday.
Mr. ul-Haq, the navy spokesman, said six navy personnel and a paramilitary Pakistan Ranger were killed in the fighting. It wasn't clear how many, if any, of the militants had been killed.
At least one U.S.-made maritime-surveillance and anti-submarine aircraft was destroyed in the initial fighting around midnight, he and other officials said.
By morning, Pakistani military helicopters could be seen hovering over the base as hundreds of Pakistani navy commandos and marines and paramilitary soldiers tried to flush out the militants. Sporadic gunshots could still be heard as noon approached, and snipers could be seen scanning for targets from rooftops.
Rescue workers and journalists took cover outside the Mehran naval aviation base in Karachi, Pakistan, as a firefight continued between security forces and militants who attacked the base Sunday.
Interior Minister Rehman Malik, who flew to Karachi overnight, said militants were in control of a building on the base. But officials dismissed reports that the militants were holding hostages.
Mr. ul-Haq said the operation was going slowly because Pakistani forces were taking care not to damage the expensive aircraft stored at the base.
Officials said the focus of the initial attack appeared to be a hanger housing U.S.-made P-3 Orion aircraft, which are used for maritime surveillance and anti-submarine operations. Pakistan is the process of buying eight of the aircraft from the U.S. Navy, and the aircraft destroyed was delivered to Pakistan last year.
U.S. personnel work at Mehran, and the U.S. Embassy said they were all safe and accounted for. It wasn't immediately clear what the Americans do at the base and if they work on the Orions.
—Follow Matthew Rosenberg on Twitter @mjrosenberg

No comments:

Post a Comment