Ten members of Pakistan’s security forces were killed along with four guerrillas, Interior Minister Rehman Malik told reporters in Karachi. The “terrorists were 20-22 years of age and wore Western clothes with suicide jackets beneath them,” Malik said. They were armed with rocket launchers and grenades, he said.
Pakistani Taliban had pledged to attack government and military installations after U.S. forces killed al-Qaeda leader bin Laden in a raid in Abbottabad, 30 miles (50 kilometers) north of Islamabad, on May 2. The American raid exacerbated tensions between the two countries, as the U.S. questioned whether Pakistani officials had protected bin Laden and Pakistan protested the violation of its territory.
The insurgents in Karachi damaged surveillance aircraft provided by the U.S. in the biggest strike against a leading Pakistani military installation since a raid on the army’s Rawalpindi headquarters in October 2009.
“This attack shows that the Taliban have sympathizers and insiders in the security establishment,” said Talat Masood, a retired army lieutenant general and security analyst in Islamabad. “It also shows that they have become more powerful and sophisticated in their planning and attacks.”
Six Americans, working as trainers and technicians, and 11 Chinese nationals were inside the base at the time of the attack, Malik said today, adding all were rescued early on. Two militants may have escaped, he said, putting at six the total number of guerrillas who could have participated, far fewer than claimed by the Taliban.
“Fifteen of our fighters entered the naval air base and we don’t expect them to return,” Ehsanullah Ehsan, a spokesman for the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, said earlier by telephone from an undisclosed location. “They are there to kill. Our issue with Pakistan is its secular policies and friendship with America.”
Last night’s strike began with several explosions at the Mehran naval base around 11 p.m., followed by gunfire. Malik said that militants entered from the back of the base by cutting through wire, before attacking like “movie stars.”
Trucks carrying soldiers entered the base soon after. Black smoke rose into the air and dozens of ambulances waited outside the base.
Two P-3C Orions, a maritime surveillance aircraft, were targeted and damaged in the attack, Haq said. The U.S. handed over the aircraft to the Pakistan navy in April 2010 and said it will give a total of eight by 2012, according to the U.S. Central Command website.
The Taliban may have hit the navy station for its role in helping conduct surveillance against movements by militant groups along Pakistan’s coast, said Bahukutumbi Raman, an Indian security analyst and retired counter-terrorism chief of India’s main intelligence agency.
Pakistan’s naval air unit, including the U.S.-supplied Orion aircraft, has been providing “air surveillance to prevent any sea-borne intrusions of al-Qaeda and to detect any terrorist plans for attacks on ships bringing supplies for the NATO forces in Afghanistan,” Raman wrote in an e-mailed analysis.
The security forces had to clear all the base structures. 13 soldiers were killed, 14 injured, and at least 8 Taliban terrorists were killed. There is the possibility that at least some of the Taliban attackers may have escaped and there are discrepancies between the numbers the Taliban claims to have been involved in the attacks and those being reported by Pakistani news reports. At least some of the terrorists wore suicide vests.