PAKISTAN’S military was ridiculed and accused of complicity in the media yesterday after a small group of militants laid siege to a naval air base, holding out for 16 hours against hundreds of commandos and rangers.
As few as six militants infiltrated the PNS Mehran naval base in Karachi, the headquarters of Pakistan’s naval air wing, on Sunday night, killing 10 security forces and wounding 20.
“Our mujahedeen who conducted this operation were equipped with faith as well as with sophisticated weapons and that’s why they fought with hundreds of security forces and inflicted heavy losses on them,” Pakistan Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan told Reuters from an undisclosed location.
Interior Minister Rehman Malik said on Monday that three militants were killed in the gunbattle while the body of a fourth was believed to be buried under the rubble of a collapsed wall. Two suspects were believed to have fled the scene, he said.
Pakistan’s military has been on the back foot since US special forces killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden on May 2, unable to explain either why they had been unable to catch the world’s most wanted man themselves or why the Americans could launch a raid deep into their territory undetected.
Two US P-3C Orion aircraft — crucial assets for Pakistan’s anti-submarine and maritime surveillance capability — were destroyed in Monday’s raid, and the Pakistan military’s reputation as a defender of the country and of Islam was left in tatters.
Reaction to the raid from the generally pro- military Pakistani media was harsh.
“Political rhetoric and a Cabinet Defence Committee meeting are not going to solve this one,” read an editorial in the English- language daily The News.
“This is an epic failure exposing an existential threat that will need epic leadership to countervail.”
An editorial in the Urdu-language Jang, one of Pakistan’s biggest and most pro-military newspapers, said: “[The attacks illustrate] a weakness of security measures... In very polite words, it can be called worrisome negligence.”
Others went beyond incompetence and suggested that the attackers had help from within the military.
“Did the Taliban raiders have information inside the naval base?” wrote Dawn, another English- language daily. “Such a possibility cannot be ruled out, because the involvement of serving personnel in several previous attacks has been well-established.”
In October 2009, a similarly small raiding party attacked the army’s general headquarters in Rawalpindi, taking 42 people hostage. By the end of the day-long ordeal, nine gunmen, 11 soldiers and three hostages were dead.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved