Around the battlefield: A bus ride around PNS Mehran base

Published: May 25, 2011

A soldier keeps guard from a watchtower as water buffalos wade through a stream around the compound walls of PNS Mehran. PHOTO: REUTERS

KARACHI: 

After a 17-hour battle of nerves with six terrorists, the Pakistan Navy invited journalists to a tour of PNS Mehran base.

At around 5 pm on Monday, a group of journalists boarded a bus that took them around all the places they had been reporting on since Sunday night. As the bureau chief for Express News, I also joined this group.

Even though the tour was short, the intelligence officers made sure they showed us all the places where the navy, Rangers and air force commandoes fought the terrorists. They gave us a briefing on how the terrorists entered the base and carried out the siege. Cameras were, however, prohibited and even the Inter-Services Public Relations cameras were not allowed to record any footage.

As the bus rounded the main building, the officer pointed to his left side and showed us the spot where they found the first terrorist. The body was lying in an open space next to three-foot-high bushes and forensic experts were gathering samples to determine his ethnicity. By this time, rigor mortis had set in.

The man lying down appeared to be between 22 and 25 years old. He was well-built, with medium height and had a fair complexion. He was wearing black cargo pants with a black T-shirt and the officer announced he had died eight hours ago.

The bus then took us to a spot where another terrorist’s body was lying. I looked at him closely and I could tell he resembled his accomplice I saw earlier. The intelligence officer suggested these men may be Uzbeks but he added quickly that nothing could be said until the forensic reports come out.

The bus also passed a pile of ashes that were once Pakistan Navy’s valuable assets for surveillance. As a Pakistani, I too felt the pain of losing the aircraft.

The officer then showed us the first wall through which the terrorists might have entered. The barbed wires on the top were cut. The officer told us that the wall falls under the jurisdiction of the PAF.

I noticed that a few closed-circuit television cameras were mounted on this wall. Judging by the distance, the terrorist would have had to travel a relatively long distance to reach the aircraft hangar once they breached the wall.

The first resistance they met was from the check-post guard and other officials stationed there. By this time, the Rapid Response Force reached the site and challenged the terrorists, who were already halfway inside the base. Rapid Response Force’s Lt Yasir Abbas was the first one to be martyred in the operation because, the officer elaborated, if Lt Abbas had not intercepted the terrorists, there would have been a lot more damage.

By this time, the terrorists had already entered the base and they fired Russian rocket-propelled grenades at the P3-C Orion aircraft and destroyed them.

At this point, the officer parried all questions about how the terrorists managed to bypass the security system of the military installation. Why were the barbed wires not electrified? Was there anyone monitoring the surveillance cameras and did no one notice when the terrorists cut their wires and the screens went blank?

The bus then moved towards the building the terrorists had occupied. It was pockmarked with bullet holes. This was the same building from where the terrorists fought the commandos by changing their positions behind sandbags. The building is constructed in such a way that there are several interconnected doors that make it easier for the people to move around – something the terrorists clearly took advantage of.

At one point, the commandos did manage to confine two of the terrorists to the rear end of the building. When the security forces asked the terrorists to drop their weapons, one of the terrorists replied in Urdu that, “I know what will happen to me if I’m caught”. After this, both the terrorists blew themselves up and the room collapsed.

The remains of one of the terrorists were visible and the intelligence officer said that they believe the other one is buried under the debris. Here too, the forensic experts were busy collecting samples. The officer clarified that we cannot assume that the terrorist was a local resident just because he replied in Urdu.

There were over three dozen aircraft and helicopters parked near the building where most of the fighting took place. Denying any security lapse, the officer said their guard was vigilant and he was the one who put up a fight.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 25th, 2011.

Reader Comments (12)

  • May 25, 2011 - 10:21AM

    Security lapse or not, whatever they had in place was clearly inadequate!Recommend

  • faiq akhtar
    May 25, 2011 - 10:36AM

    it would be much better if the armed forces took us on a ride through the network of madrassas,mosques that produce these religious terrorists.It would be better for us if our establishment told us how they’ve fed & raised the monster of islamic fundamentalism which is now eating us alive,which has made life miserable for the 180 million people of this country.

    The media needs to come clean on its anchors,its newscasters who’ve been promoting islamic fundamentalism & conspiracy theorists.The media has played a highly negative role in this regard as they’ve directed people’s attention towards idiotic conspiracy theories instead of confronting the harsh reality that it is because of the glorification of violence in the name of religion that we are in the sorry state we are in.

    it is time we confronted the demon of islamic fundamentalism before it kills us all.Recommend

  • dextor
    May 25, 2011 - 10:54AM

    Brave act by Shaheed Yasir and others…check the security guys there are few culprits inside…who cannot notice the blank camera…how someone knows tha nvys unscheduled bus time…there is someone sitting inside us…find this black sheep……..Recommend

  • Mujib Abakhel
    May 25, 2011 - 11:07AM

    Private & Multinational Companies should learn a Human Resource lesson from our beloved Armed Forces. Whatever may happen, whether it be GHQ attack, Abbotabad operation or PNS Mehran debacle, our Armed Forces never let anyone point a single finger over their personnel. Try to turn your organizations into ‘sacred cows’ & your personnels into the ‘untouchables against poor performance’.

    Pakistani Armed Forces are a classic example of (in)efficiency.Recommend

  • May 25, 2011 - 11:08AM

    These security camera projects are designed just to make money and there is no use of these. One can easily see the cameras installed on singnal and squares in the city. some are broken, some are facing sky and some are looking down the earth.

    I daily witness this while looking these master pieces installed by the CDA on the instructions of honourable Home Minister (name is not necessay coz he is well reputed for his shuttel diplomacy between islamabad and london, and all the stuff but his job as home minister).

    Our leadership is impotent and have no vision. I alway say while sitting in my friends that it is alright for govt. official to take their share from the projects (as bribe or whatever) but for God’s sake invent at least 50% on the project.

    God Bless all the good men in this country.Recommend

  • Zainab Ali
    May 25, 2011 - 1:08PM

    Yesterday, a retired navy officer was saying in an angry tone that when Pakistani military is busy in renting out their gardens and other open places for marriage ceremonies, opening up bakeries ad becoming real estate agents then how come we can trust them to provide security to this country.Recommend

  • Amir Ali
    May 25, 2011 - 1:18PM

    Dear Mr Akhtar,

    Its very easy to blame others, neglecting the role we individuals are playing in society. Islamic fundamentalist are not born in Masjid and Madrassas. They are made through invasions targeting their sovereignty either by their lives or land. Dont take it personal but we cant imagine the reaction a child would have when for no reason his/her family is massacred. As far as the media is concern i personally think that all these scripts of terrorist are first written by them. Its time to realize the actual enemy.
    What makes you think that the life of 180million people is miserable because of attacks? What about the current political establishment? or the countries destabilizing infrastructure?
    What you need is armed forces to give ride especially in the northern areas of Pakistan or the 80% above poverty population living here. We condemn the attacks on our nation either be its strategic installation or the peoples living here. I sure hope that we all be together and fight the actual enemy.Recommend

  • hasan mehmood
    May 25, 2011 - 1:22PM

    @faiq akhtar:
    “It is because of the glorification of violence in the name of religion that we are in the sorry state we are in” Well said. That is the crux of the matter which most of us are trying to bypass seeking refuge in conspiracy theories. Anyway what type of a Muslim seeking implementation of Sharia and hating Non Muslims and even other non conforming Muslims, agree to cooperate with MOSSAD / CIA / RAW in destroying a Muslim state howsoever imperfect. I dont expect a clear answer to this.Recommend

  • Adnan
    May 25, 2011 - 6:23PM

    Very well said Faiq.In this misguided pursuit of religion, we are now so far away from Islam it is hardly recognisable. THERE IS NO EXCUSE OR FORGIVENESS FOR KILLING INNOCENTS, NOT EVEN FOR A NON MUSLIM. Read again the life of our prophet SAW, learn again how much tolerance is in our islam. As for Mr Amir Ali, Yes, I am amongst those 180 million who fear for the safety of my children, my parents and my friends.I plead to you to stop justifying acts of killers and wake up to reality. Tthe enemy is very much with and within us, poisoning minds, spouting venom, glorifying hatred violence and intolerance through our tv screens. Our worst enemies are those who continue to deny the simple reality that it is us, Pakistanis, that are killing, robbing, raping their fellow countrymen everyday. We are damned by our leadership. We desperately need to change the paradigm. Recommend

  • Hissam Amir Khan
    May 25, 2011 - 10:51PM

    Believe it or not, but it was 100% + an inside job…
    Some one from the inside gave info about the weak spots and also made sure the point of entry was clear enough to get in…

    The words “INSIDE JOB” and “USA, INDIA, ISRAEL” are all over the place… Recommend

  • abheyjaswal
    May 25, 2011 - 11:52PM

    I FEEL that time has come for taliban creators is pakistan, the whole world knows the facts, now talibanis has start killing their creators. more facts will come soon. pakistan still a sleeping nation.pakistan has to heavy cost fot their creators.Recommend

  • Rashid Khan
    May 26, 2011 - 9:12AM

    Barbed wire fencing, a perimeter wall and an odd surveillance camera with lone sentry do not make up a security system. There’s more to it. These are meant to keep out the water buffaloes in the Malir ‘nadi’ and not trained terrorists.Recommend

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