Security forces retake PNS Mehran: 17-hour battle of nerves

Published: May 24, 2011
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Wreckage of a P-3C Orion aircraft, said to be the target of the attack, is seen. PHOTO: AFP/NNI

Wreckage of a P-3C Orion aircraft, said to be the target of the attack, is seen. PHOTO: AFP/NNI

Relatives of navy officer Lt Yasir Abbas, who was killed  by terrorists at PNS Mehran, mourn his death at his residence in Lahore on Monday. PHOTO: PPI
Soldiers take position on top of a tower during the operation. PHOTO: AFP/NNI
A rangers soldier poses with the victory sign outside the airbase. PHOTO: AFP/NNI
Wreckage of a P-3C Orion aircraft, said to be the target of the attack, is seen. PHOTO: AFP/NNI
KARACHI: 

Sporadic bursts of intense firing continued to echo out of the country’s largest naval airbase, PNS Mehran, till Monday morning. The terrorists were surrounded and confined in one building and the security forces were trying to capture the militants alive.

But none of the “six” were.

Security forces recaptured PNS Mehran on Monday after a 17-hour operation against militants who had stormed the installation in a brazen attack late Sunday night.

According to Interior Minister Rehman Malik, just six militants were involved in the attack on the base in Karachi. By the end of it, they had managed to destroy two Navy P-3C aircraft before laying siege to a building in one of the most-heavily guarded bases in the country.

He said that two terrorists were gunned down during exchange of fire while one blew himself up to avoid arrest, taking down the building, and the fourth accomplice with him.

Two terrorists are believed to have escaped.

In all, eight navy personnel and two Rangers personnel embraced martyrdom in the assault while at least 20 more, 18 navy and two Rangers’ personnel, were wounded. The injured were moved to naval hospitals for treatment.

After it was over, personnel of the paramilitary forces emerged from the base  deployed along the boundary walls of the base.

The interior minister said that 17 foreigners – 11 Chinese and six Americans – were inside the base at the time of the assault – but all had been evacuated safely. The Americans were contractors working for SAIC and Lockheed Martin doing maintenance on the aircraft.

What went on inside

“When they fired the first rockets, they were intercepted,” said Pakistan’s navy chief Admiral Noman Bashir. “Then they could not launch another attack on other aircraft and they tried to hide.” He said it took three to four hours to draw out a plan to contain the militants.

Following the attack, naval commandos immediately reached the site, cordoned off the hanger area and managed to salvage other aircraft and assets inside the compound.

Reports say that, in addition to damaging two aircraft, the terrorists also hit various other sensitive depots in the fourth attack on the Pakistan Navy within a month.

A spokesman for the Tehreek-e-Taliban, who claimed responsibility for the attack, said that the team of terrorists they sent had enough supplies to survive a three-day siege.

Interior Minister Rehman Malik said that security forces launched a coordinated operation to regain control of the navy base.

“We wanted to bring all the logistics under one command against the enemy,” said Malik while talking to the media after a survey of the PNS Mehran base at the Chief Minister House in Karachi, adding that navy forces were assisted by commandos, firemen, Rangers and police.

The interior minister mentioned that the terrorist’s suicide jacket was still operational and there were several undetonated grenades on the site as well, adding that there might be explosives in the debris of the building which collapsed.

Nearly 1,500 security personnel, including Special Services Group (SSG) commandos participated in the operation. The naval and army commandos engaged the terrorists while Rangers were deployed on the outer circle of the operation to block any escape routes.

The attackers

Malik said that among the six terrorists present at the site, one suicide bomber’s head had been recovered, while four bodies were also found. He added, however, that two individuals were seen running off the base.

The terrorists had been using heavy weaponry, said Malik, “the kind no common man can afford to buy”.

He said the terrorists had to be receiving support and equipment from somewhere.

Malik said the terrorists were wearing “western clothes, had small beards and three of them had sharp features”.

He said two of the attackers look to be around 22 years of age and one of the suicide bombers was around 25 years of age. He said they were dressed in black clothes “like they do in movies”.

‘They were dressed like Star Wars characters,’ said Malik.

The post-mortem of the all the terrorists killed during the operation has been carried out. Their bodies, under tight security, were taken to Civil Hospital Karachi on Monday night where doctors conducted all legal formalities.

“We have received four bodies,” a well-placed source at the hospital told The Express Tribune on the condition of anonymity. “The post-mortems have been conducted.” He said that two bodies were mutilated while two had multiple bullet wounds – appearing to have been shot with sub-machine guns.

Special tribute

“I want to pay special tribute to martyred Lieutenant Yasir, who gave up his life and saved valuable lives and assets,” Malik added.

He also acknowledged the services of the firemen and other security personnel who lost their lives.

“We are fighting a war against a cunning enemy,” said Malik, urging people to condemn those trying to destabilise Pakistan.

Joint investigation team formed

Malik said an investigation team led by the Pakistan Navy has been formed and will include members from the FIA, police, Rangers and other intelligence units.

Malik said that team has been asked to file a report as soon as possible. He added that terrorists were planning attacks on sensitive installations and army institutions, and that names of several officials who they were planning on attacking had come forward.

The interior minister said there was a chance the terrorists might carry out another operation.

The aftermath

Meanwhile, Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Noman Bashir said on Monday that installations of Pakistan Navy were being relocated to a safer place away from residential areas.

“We are trying to relocate the naval base and other vital installations away from residential areas,” he told a news conference in Karachi.

He said the effective security of naval installations is becoming difficult due to crowded residential areas around the Mehran base.

“When these installations were planned and built near Karsaz, they were away from the city, but with the fast growth of residential areas around the base, it has become in the centre.”

Additional input from agencies

Published in The Express Tribune, May 24th, 2011.

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Reader Comments (37)

  • barkat ali
    May 24, 2011 - 8:02AM

    Pakistan Navy kay SHAHEEDO ko SalamRecommend

  • Nadeem Ahmed
    May 24, 2011 - 8:11AM

    Security forces ‘succeeded’ in retaking base because some terrorists blew themselves up and rest escaped. There mission was to blind our naval forces, in which they have succeeded. They did not come there to make it their home. Recommend

  • Anoyn
    May 24, 2011 - 8:26AM

    Good .. we got the base back in 17 hrs. ..

    When get the other half of Pakistan .. that is occupied by non-state actors? How many years?Recommend

  • Mirza
    May 24, 2011 - 8:30AM

    It is comforting to know that our brave soldiers have finally taken their base back. Only six terrorists managed to do so much damage? The issue is how these terrorists managed to enter the most secure base? How did they damage so much so quickly and efficiently with so few people? If one can assume for the sake of argument that the terrorists somehow sneaked in but our brave soldiers reached there in a few minutes. How come 2 out of 6 still managed to escape, with the base full of brave soldiers and surrounded by their men after the shootout?
    Did the learned bosses in the army not know that after finishing their job to perfection, the terrorist might escape? Sorry they had the most modern equipment and our radars were jammed so they managed to escape. Recommend

  • Pan Mat
    May 24, 2011 - 9:08AM

    –start of sarcasm–
    Mr Malik has no strategic vision, when you raise a bunch of rattle snakes as strategic depths, few will bite your hands but this is an acceptable collateral damage. There are few good talibans that lose sight of glorious vision for Islam and turn into bad taliban.

    Since the attackers were wearing black dresses inspired by a western movie, this attack is a conspiracy hatched by CIA-RAW-Mossad as no pious Muslim will ever engage in killing another Muslim!

    If only all the Muslims will pay attention to the master plan of Mohd Bin Qasim, all the glory of Islam will be restored without spending a penny on research or scientific endeavors.
    –end of sarcasm–

    The movie that Mr. Rehman needs to watch is Alice In Wonderland.Recommend

  • pervez akhlaq
    May 24, 2011 - 9:11AM

    4 men kept 1100 of our forces pinned down for 17 hours,what will we do if a regular army of some country attacks us??

    it’s so tragic to see that our establishment & the vast majority of our media still promote islamic fundementalism which has killed 35000 of our countrymen.our media immediately after such attacks brings on experts who start deflecting blame away from the religious terrorists through wild conspiracy theories.
    Why doesn’t our establishment get rid of its sick addiction to islamic terrorism? haven’t they seen the devastating consequences of this strategy of theirs? how many more lives have to be lost before our media stops promoting religious bigotry?

    A female anchor who recently changed stations( she’s infamous for waving around fatwas in the face of a brave man who was subsequently martyred by a religious psycho) brings out a conspiracy theorist master after every attack who then takes our people on a wild ride of yahodi saazishein & kafirs wanting to take weaken the last fort of islam.Why doesn’t our society put public pressure on tv stations not to provide airtime to such anchors who contribute to islamic fundamentalism in our country?Recommend

  • GHULAM SARWAR
    May 24, 2011 - 9:22AM

    this is very unfortunate and height of neglegence that about three dozen officers of navy detailed only for security purposes, drinking millions of rupees monthly, could not safeguard a base of 1000 meter square, by this way two aircraft badly needed, costing billions of rupees, and “not available for us anywhere” were destroyed
    now they say we retook the base , what did you retake, ashes of aircraft and bodies of sailors,
    our officers training institutions would have to reshape the syllabus and training methods and desired character of potential officers Recommend

  • Asad Hasan
    May 24, 2011 - 10:06AM

    Sir: we all saw the pomp and power and white BMW the naval chief used in arriving at the Mehran Base after every thing had been cleared away. It seems he stopped over from his way to the golf course at Karsaz – only minutes away from the base. Does he even realise the foolishness, ineptness and sorry state of face he is showing to the world. Afterall he is the face of the navy. If he resigns it will be nothing great, it will be the least he can do. But does he have the courage? to do so! Does our nation have this in themselves – afterall the CNS is a son of the soil, and whatever he does is a reflection of what we are as a nation, and as a people !!!!!Recommend

  • Chilli
    May 24, 2011 - 10:20AM

    We need to seriously reevaluate our security arrangements. We are only reactive not proactive. I dont know how we call us best in the world. Recent events are eye openers for the puplic who think that army can defend them well. Its time for serious reshuffle in security high ups because things will remain the same if incompetent stays in power.Recommend

  • Sovereign_Citizen
    May 24, 2011 - 11:05AM

    This time let’s also find out possbile foreign link from UAE and Saudi Arabia (have been funding extremists in Pakistan) alongwith India. Salute to Yasir Abbas and other Shaheeds of the incident. Recommend

  • Jawad Iqbal Jawad
    May 24, 2011 - 11:27AM

    Sheer negligence, security lapse, and lack of motivation………………… our armed forces are busy in making plots, lands and housing societiesRecommend

  • Asmat Jamal
    May 24, 2011 - 11:30AM

    This is a sad story of security breakdown to which the naval chief Naval Chief Admiral Nauman Bashir does not agree. If this is not a security lapse than what would be one?
    Terrorist managed to destroy two Navy P-3C aircraft and practically blinding Pakistan Navy which had much daunting tasks in view of its expanding role and expansion and growth of its prime adversary into a potent blue water navy.
    Every base has its outer and inner security cordons augmented by the video surveillance. When these terrorists were crossing the wall and security fence , why were they missed by the cameras or why weren’t they picked up by the concerned beat of the outer cordon and why weren’t they fired upon. This is where the problem lies which needs to be investigated.
    The base commander , the base security officer , commander of the guards and concerned security guards of the area from which the terrorists came must be investigated. It should also be investigated whether the videos cameras were being monitored at the time of incidentRecommend

  • May 24, 2011 - 11:30AM

    Our Interior Minister is only impressed with terrorists who were wearing black like STAR WAR Movies. He should now resign from the Ministership and onl watch such movies as he is fully incable to handle the current situation.Recommend

  • Iftikhar-ur-Rehman
    May 24, 2011 - 11:44AM

    Job well done or is it???? Admiral Noman Bashir said 6 terrorists came , after 17 hours of nerve wrecking battle , 2 killed by Navy & Rangers , two blew themselves and best of it is that 2 escaped. GREAT!! 2000 troops took part in action and even then 2 escaped !!! UNBELIEVABLE & UNACCEPTABLE Recommend

  • good
    May 24, 2011 - 12:20PM

    small group pak taliban do this to pak

    how can pak fight india

    where is hakimullah mehsud near military academy like osama

    what pak taliban want

    p3 orion destroyed plus cost on war on terror is what

    will america give more military and other aid

    or cut aid

    both sides dont like pak america or pak taliban
    neither america drones kill hakimmulah nor pak army kill himRecommend

  • parvez
    May 24, 2011 - 12:25PM

    Now with the destruction of these Orion aircraft the navy is tactically blind and deaf. Is is not an opportune time to disband this white elephant or reduce it to the status of the Coast Guards. This will save billions which could be used on education.Recommend

  • Imran Khurshid
    May 24, 2011 - 12:47PM

    I am not sure but it seems some thing is going on very serious since last 2 or 3 months. First an operation carried out at Abottabad by US while keeping Pakistan away and then such highly trained terrorists having such advanced equipment bashing through the Navy base and destroying the asset of almost 90 million Dollars.

    The whole scenario is creating a lot of mistrust on the Armed forces and civil administration. Which would lead the west forces to create a reason new reason in West and a common Pakistani that they both are not capable of running the war on terror nor to secure the NUKS. Although I am not a big fan of both because of countless reasons. but it seems we need to stay united with them as we usually did in the past. Recommend

  • Karim
    May 24, 2011 - 12:47PM

    Guys, its a obvious inside job. Tribune, you got to do a little bit of investative journalism too..

    There`s a report in Time with title “Details Emerge of Deadly Raid on Pakistani Base”. Now whatever our poor Rehman Malik said, adds up. Please publish this report and thank me for the help.. ;)
    (This thanks can be in the form of free subscription for Tribune for 6 months)
    ;)Recommend

  • Hamid Javaid
    May 24, 2011 - 12:48PM

    Dear All Stake Holders,
    This is my country and I bleed when something like this gets repeated. When will you learn? When will you awake? When will you start planning? Defense is not the best tactic as it shows your weakness.
    It looks like you have following weaknesses
    1. Weak Governance and concentration of unprofessional & corrupt people under one umbrella (Government).
    2. Lack of believe
    2. Lack of vision
    3. Lack of trust
    4. Lack commitment
    Solutions:
    1. Government should quickly devolve the governance, hold Cuncilors or Nazims elections and get the public involve in this problem to get rid of anti state people. These gross root level elected persons along with development work, be given additional task to provide the Government the leading information what is happening at the Council or Zila level, who is coming and who is going and what activities are being performed against the state. Then Govt can then take action against the anti state persons. Please involve the general public to get rid of this menace.

    Believe that this is our country & it’s only our responsibility to defend it and forget about our partners in war on terrorism and they are only beneficiaries.
    Have vision to make this country thriving with education, agriculture, indigenous technology, quick Justice, economic activity opportunities open for all and set target year to achieve the status of developed nation by following consistent policies.
    Trust your national resources as we have the most talented people in the world who only need equal opportunity and targets. We have uncounted resources which as untapped.
    Your commitment to remain loyal with this country, irrespective whoever you are and how resourceful you are and respect its laws.

    Hopefully this will help.Recommend

  • Asad
    May 24, 2011 - 12:56PM

    Interesting to note that the terrorist were “Six” in number. A few weeks ago, when OBL (or some guy who was deemed to be OBL) was killed by American SEALS, there was a long article about the SEALS and there rigourous training in a western newspaper. The article had stated that the SEALS are the most elite of the most elite commandos and no one in the US armed forces is aware of which commandos are SEALS. The article also stated that the SEALS always have a team of “Six” and they carry out covert operations which the US forces cannot openly carry out or get approval on paper/records.

    From media footage, one of the killed attacker, is a man of the ‘white race’. The attackers had also destroyed Pak Jets. Could these “Six” have been a group of SEALS?Recommend

  • Mushtaq
    May 24, 2011 - 1:00PM

    @Asad:
    Please stop spreading rumors. The Seal Team Six is a special unit. But it is not restricted to 6 soldiers. 19 20 soldiers were involved in direct ground operations against Osama.Recommend

  • Muhammad Almas
    May 24, 2011 - 1:12PM

    It is a terrorist drama played by the RAW & CIA cooperation. Without their no one have courage to do such act specially taliban. We should explore the reality of Tehrik-e-Taliban because every big and furious incident it claimed. It might be the reaction of 3 acts : (1) Dharna against Drones from Tehreek-e-Insaf (2) Pak-China cooperation at Gawadar Port (3) President Zardari’s intentions towards Iran and Russia. Recommend

  • Aamir
    May 24, 2011 - 1:17PM

    War will not start after drumbeats now, you have to be ready 24hrs a day. When we say reaction with in 3 minutes, its too much these days. One can easily say that we can loose a whole war in 3 minutes with sophisticated technology available with enemy. Come out of stone age and be ready and alert. If we are at war, then we should behave and react like this too. Pakistan Army is still living in 65 and miserably failed in building nation’s confidence in recent days.Recommend

  • Karim
    May 24, 2011 - 2:11PM

    Asad Bhai & his Ilk,

    Try to bring new conspiracy theories, Its getting really boring, bhai. I have a few suggestions:-

    Add Variety and Spicy (Ex: They came in UFO`s to Attack… ).
    Add nice text (Ex: Yahoodi/Mossadi/Raawi etc)
    Add flavour & characters (Ex: Jedi/Phantom/Superman along with Yahoodi)
    Add reliable people/media for better Acceptance (Ex: Moderator of Tribune along with Yahoodi)
    Add Sources (Ex: State media sources like Zaid Hamid/Hamid Gul. They`ll also be happy).
    Get New Ideas (Watch Some News channels, theres a Lady who recently changed channels & shes innovative. You can learn from her).
    Dont read/watch Express News. They always report facts & youll fall short of Innovative ideas. Youll not improve).
    Always blame Political Parties except PTI. Never blame our Army/ISI, they are saviours.
    Never blame Militant Organizations like AQ, Tbn (both Good & bad), JeM, SSP, LeT etc. Muslims can never kill muslims, remember that.

    & now thank me for the free suggestions. I know its hardwork, but No Pain no gain. Hope you improve.Recommend

  • Imran
    May 24, 2011 - 2:15PM

    The headline should have been: Militants spare/leave the PNS Mehran after 17 hoursRecommend

  • Mudassar Salim
    May 24, 2011 - 2:16PM

    Dear Sir

    The attack on PNS Mehran in Karachi has proved once again that Pakistan is inflicted with a self-created monster and this monster is now eating its vitals bit by bit. The non-state actors which were, unfortunately, promoted by our czars for bleeding our enemies have turned inwards and start bleeding its own creators. Whatever were the intentions of using these private armies at the time of creation, it is very much clear now that the state of Pakistan itself is in danger of evaporating if we continue to have a soft corner for these marauders. Our state needs a clean up. We need to redefine the roles of Pakistan’s major power centers and decision makers. Our whole attitude towards the security issues and its solution needs revamp. For starters, Our foreign policy should be formulated by our civilian leadership and the foreign office and not by some other agencies. Our civilian leadership needs to take the driving seat in these matters as our arrangements so far in these matters have proved an unmitigated disaster. We are an isolated country in the world today. We are shunned by almost everyone including our apparent friends as well. The reason is our constant double-speak and double games on all important security and counter-terrorism issues faced by the world.
    In which country do you see private armies (Lashkars and Sipahs) mosquarading as political parties? which state allows such armies to roam around freely in the country, organizing themselves, collecting money from the people and then imparting military training with complete impunity? and which state allows thse entities to openly contest elections as normal political parties?. These organizations openly spread sectarian divisions and terrorise anyone who do not agree with them or tries to challenge them. Thousands have been killed and maimed in the name of religious piety. Our cities have become hotbeds of intolerance and extremism. And all this is done in the name of religion and Jihad. The unkindest cut is our agencie’s tacit support for these organizations. Our state has become so weak that we cannot prosecute these killers even if some of them are arrested.
    Our pursuit of strategic depth is now turning into a strategic death for us. The promoters and inventors of this theory should have mercy on all of us for ALLAH sake. I am sure even now we would like to continue with our old ways. We will invent some arguments to satisfy ourselves about these happenings (some new conspiracy theory a la Hamid Gul) and think that the world and our own people are stupid and dumb enough to believe in all this gobbledegook spewed out by various spokesperson of our institutions. One can only hope and pray that this not the case anymore and our people should now demand a complete departure from the disastrous course that our state is being led to for the last three decades at least. The saner elements in all our civilian and military institutions should now wake up and take control of things as otherwise we are now close to annihilation as a viable state.

    P/S… Please stop this mantra of , THIS IS NOT OUR WAR.. This is our war and we have to fight it out and flush out the menace from our country ourselves as no other country is threatened more from this as Pakistan.

    Mudassar Salim
    Recommend

  • May 24, 2011 - 3:00PM

    Vienna,24-05-2011

    I am sorry, as a journalist I am bound to point out, if Express Tribune collaboration
    covers free mixing of language and religion plus avoidance of facts relating to events
    under report. In this particular report, the number of intruders remains a matter of
    guess.Emotions are reflected.I am unable to conclude that the base remains free
    of all intruders from this report.
    Kulamarva BalakrishnaRecommend

  • Sameer
    May 24, 2011 - 3:17PM

    Actually the things is Mr Kulamarva ….. ask you RAW they knew better abt this issue how they planted with the help if CIA……they will give u the right answer….Recommend

  • Sheikh Abdullah
    May 24, 2011 - 4:42PM

    White BMW, Big House (present in service and after retirement also), Askari 1-14, And insisting on statement that it is not SECURITY LAPS & Our Commondos have responded within three minutes after destruction of two PC-3 Orions.Recommend

  • Ahsan Raza
    May 24, 2011 - 6:00PM

    I wonder what would happen with the people(in grave) who’re misusing precious resources/authority to their advantage whether it’s looted wealth of their people, big houses, lands, bank accounts, cars etc. Recommend

  • mahmood
    May 24, 2011 - 7:41PM

    Can anyone count? How does one head plus 4 bodies plus two guys escaping add up to six terrorist? This is one of those stories that seems to change so rapidly that no reporter seems to have take a pause to question the obvious flaws in the changing storyline.Recommend

  • billo
    May 24, 2011 - 7:46PM

    Its one thing to lose wars to India. After all, they are a much larger country with a massive economic and defense base. But now its seems any yahoo with a rifle can take on the Pakistani military and win. I hope the people of Liechtenstein (population 35,000) don’t get the idea to invade us. If this incident is any indication, they could wipe out the entire Pakistani military in a matter of hours. Recommend

  • mahmood
    May 24, 2011 - 8:09PM

    ‘They were dressed like Star Wars characters,’ said Malik.

    What does that mean? Were you attacked by Wookies or what?

    Malik said the terrorists were wearing “western clothes, had small beards and three of them had sharp features”.

    Laying the groundwork for conspiracy theory? What the heck does “sharp features” mean?

    The terrorists had been using heavy weaponry, said Malik, “the kind no common man can afford to buy”

    More groundwork for conspiracy theory? Suicide Vest, AK47’s, hand grenades, and RPG’s may be beyond common man purchasing power but it’s std terrorist attire.Recommend

  • Raza Khan
    May 24, 2011 - 9:47PM

    When 1500 soldiers cannot prevent 2 men from escaping from a secured compound and your interior minister compares the attackers to Star Wars characaters, you know you have issues.

    Recommend

  • Nadeem Ahmed
    May 25, 2011 - 3:06AM

    “This drama is staged to relocate naval base and sell this prime property”..If its not true then all commanders should be court martialed and security of all assets should be handed over to Taliban.Recommend

  • Amir
    May 25, 2011 - 8:59AM

    Worst government who is colluding with all this. Recommend

  • Ahsan Raza
    May 25, 2011 - 7:14PM

    Problem lies within our own state…money is thicker than blood here. Recommend

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