CHI The Armed Forces on Monday regained control of PNS Mehran after 17 hours of fighting with heavily armed Taliban gunmen who destroyed two US-made surveillance planes and killed at least 10 soldiers in one of the most brazen attacks on military installations since the Army headquarters was besieged in October 2009.
Federal Interior Minister Rehman Malik has officially confirmed that four to six terrorists armed with heavy weaponry attacked PNS Mehran base on Sunday night. Two of the terrorists, he declared, were killed in the firefight and one possibly wearing suicide jacket blew himself inside the building and his body was buried in the debris of the destroyed portion of the building. Two terrorists are suspected to have run away and that no terrorist was captured from the scene as was the general perception.
He said that there were 17 foreigners inside the base when terrorists stormed while security personnel shifted them to safety. At least 11 Chinese engineers and 6 American maintenance contractors were shifted immediately, he added.
He said 10 valiant soldiers challenging the terrorists embraced martyrdom included Lieutenant Yasir Abbas, an aeronautical engineer of the Pakistan Navy who was voluntarily heading the Navy rapid force during the operation and two Rangers personnel namely Commando Akhter and Khalil Ahmed. At least 15 troops were injured in the standoff which ended late Monday morning before the interior minister visited the scene of the terrorist attack.
Malik recommended the President and the Prime Minister to award Shaheed Lt Abbas Sitar-e-Jasarat and the Shaheed Ranger soldiers Sitar-e-Jurrat for their gallantry. He disclosed that the three terrorists killed had fair complexion, sharp features and small beards. They were between 20 to 25 years, wearing black T shirts and trousers. He said the ethnic background of the terrorists could not be ascertained immediately. He said the terrorists who below himself up could be the eldest.
According to the initial information, he said, four to six terrorists used ladders to climb over the high walls on the back of the base and cut the barbed wire to get entry into the base with their heavy weapons.
The terrorists carried rocket launchers and LMG rifles which was unusual because these kinds of weapons are carried by regular armies. They used small but powerful grenades which have been found from the scene and would be inspected to know their origin.
Immediately after entering the sensitive area of the base where naval aircraft, including PC-3 Orion reconnaissance planes and other aircraft were parked, they fired rockets at the reconnaissance planes. One aircraft was hit directly and the other was hit after the rocket ricochet off the tarmac.
The security forces sprang into action immediately and challenged the terrorists, averting damage to other aircraft and installations. He said Lieutenant Yasir of the Pakistan Navy took the responsibility and with the help of other navy personnel succeeded in removing other aircraft and equipment to safety.
In the ensuing firefight, two terrorists were killed and a third was detected running away and taking shelter inside the building. A navy personal chased the terrorist and challenged him in the close proximity, asking him to surrender. The terrorist replied in Urdu before blowing himself up.
The other two terrorists who took to heels could not be traced and it was suspected that they had managed to escape. Their whereabouts are not known.
The interior minister spoke highly of the valour of the Pakistan Navy personnel who despite coming under direct heavy fire did not care for their lives and moved the air assets to safety. He said that the fearless Lieutenant Yasir embraced martyrdom as he was hit by a bullet of the cowardly terrorists who were firing indiscriminately.
Responding to a barrage of queries from the mediamen why the venue of media briefing was shifted from outside PNS Mehran to the CM House, Malik said the intelligence people advised him not to meet the media there. We did not want to put the media at risk and because of that the briefing was shifted to the CM House.
He also criticised the needless sit-ins and urged that the war is Pakistans war.
To a question, he said: We are facing 9/11 daily and demanding our allies to provide us with support because we are fighting not only for Pakistan but for the whole world. He also announced a committee for the investigation of the base attack.
It is learnt that the heavily armed terrorists took advantage of darkness of the night to enter the Pakistani Naval airbase. In addition to destroying two naval aircraft, they attempted to hit various other sensitive depots.
Commodore Irfanul Haq, spokesman for the Pakistan Navy, confirmed killing of eight naval official and personnel and two Rangers. Some 15 others were wounded during the operation conducted by the Pakistan Navy against the terrorists who climbed over the back wall of the base on Sunday at 10:30pm. The terrorists laid siege to the hangars where jets were parked. They used heavy weapons including rockets, LMGs, sub machine guns, hand grenades and other sophisticated weapons, killing 10 troops.
Commodore Haq said that naval commandos cordoned off the hangers and managed to save the rest the aircrafts parked there and assets inside the compound.
Intense firing between the terrorists and the defenders continued till 9am on Monday. Reinforcement of the Army, the Rangers and Navy commando joined the security personnel inside the base.
Flames and smokes arising from the destroyed aircrafts hovered over the base the whole night.
Sources said that many of the blasts heard had taken place when terrorists fired rockets and hurled grenades.
Two of the terrorists were gunned down during the exchange of fire while one of their accomplices blew himself up to avoid the arrest. Sources said that there wasnt any other terrorist alive or dead in the base.
Sources said that security forces had made a thorough search of the area after the death of the last terrorist who blew up his suicide jacket at around 9am Monday.
A guest who attended the wedding party held at the PAF Museum, while talking to The Nation, said that as he reached the lawns, two explosions took place. The security personnel deployed on the gates of base banned the entry of all civilians.
Navy and Army commandos engaged the terrorists in the firefight while the Rangers were deployed on the outer circle of the operation to block the escape route of the terrorists.
Heavy contingents of police including officials of the Crime Investigation Department and the Counterterrorism Unit rushed to the spot, but were not allowed inside the base by the Naval authorities.
Media and other rescuers services were kept outside the base while bullets were heard flying over the heads of the media men waiting outside the base.
Bullets also hit vehicles outside and fuel station at Sharae Faisal. No serious loss was reported.
The banned Tehreek-e-Taliban have reportedly claimed responsibility for the terrorist attack and said they had dispatched 15 to 20 suicide bombers.
The Naval spokesman rejected the reports of killing of any foreigners and said that all foreigners have been shifted to safety but declined to disclose the exact reason for the presence of foreigners.
Staff Reporter from Peshawar adds: Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) Monday claimed responsibility for attacking Pakistan Naval Airbase in Karachi.
TTP spokesman Ihsanullah Ihsan while talking to media persons from some unknown location said 22 well-equipped fighters had carried out the attack on Mehran Airbase in accordance with the TTPs declared policy to avenge the death of Osama Bin Laden.
The attack, he said, showed that the TTP was united and active. He said the attackers had enough ammunition and food and they could fight for three days.
Agencies add: It is not just an attack on a navy establishment, it is an attack on Pakistan, Malik added, warning that those who sympathise with the Taliban and Al-Qaeda should instead join hands with us to save our country.
There are believed to have been four to six terrorists. Four are confirmed dead. Two are suspected to have run away, he told reporters.
A spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban, who have stepped up attacks to avenge the May 2 death of bin Laden, said the militia had dispatched 15 to 20 suicide bombers equipped to fight for a week.
We had already warned after Osamas martyrdom that we will carry out even bigger attacks, Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan told AFP by telephone from an undisclosed location.
Malik said the security personnel killed included one navy officer, three navy firemen, three navy commandos, a sailor and two paramilitary soldiers, and 15 others were wounded.
Meanwhile, the chief of Pakistan Navy Admiral Nauman Bashir, rejecting the impression that terrorists wanted to cause material damage to Navy, has said that terrorists targeted the Naval forces, reported a private TV channel.
Naval Chief was addressing a press conference after completion of operation by Pakistans armed forces to regain complete control of PNS Mehran.
He said two destroyed aircraft P-3C Orion were worth $40 million. Terrorists stormed PNS Mehran from eastern side and were experienced sharpshooters.
After entering the naval base, two of the militants mounted atop a tower while as many hid behind the bushes, he revealed, adding that they later fired six rockets.
Nauman dismissed rumours of security breach.
This attack could not be termed a security lapse, he stated.
Navy commandos reached the base three minutes after armed assault.
After the first assault, the terrorists were completely restrained from carrying out more attacks, he added.
To a question, Nauman said the terrorists escaped through the same route from which they entered the Naval facility. I remained in constant touch with President, Prime Minister and other top security personnel, he informed.