KARACHI (Reuters) — Troops recaptured a Pakistani naval air force base on Monday after a 16-hour battle with as few as six Taliban gunmen who had launched their attack to avenge the killing of Osama bin Laden.
It is just as likely they had something like this in the works anyway.
The assault casts fresh doubt on the military’s ability to protect its bases after a raid on the army headquarters in the city of Rawalpindi in 2009 and is a further embarrassment following the surprise raid by U.S. special forces on the al Qaeda leader’s hideout north of Islamabad on May 2.
Interior Minister Rehman Malik said just six militants were believed involved in the attack on the PNS Mehran base in Karachi late on Sunday, destroying two aircraft and laying siege to a main building in one of the most heavily guarded bases in the unstable, nuclear-armed country.
“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 sketch out a plan to contain the militants.
At least 10 military personnel were killed and 20 wounded in the assault that started at 10.30 p.m. on Sunday (1730 GMT), a navy spokesman said.
Malik said 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 added.
One of two attackers hiding in the building blew himself up while two others were gunned down elsewhere, Bashir said.
The Pakistan Taliban, who are allied with al Qaeda, said they had staged the attack to avenge bin Laden’s death.
“It was the revenge of martyrdom of Osama bin Laden. It was the proof that we are still united and powerful,” Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan told Reuters by telephone from an undisclosed location.
Malik said the militants, aged between 20 and 25, used two ladders to scale the walls of the base and jumped in by cutting barbed wire.
He said the militants had used guns and grenades in their attack on the base, 15 miles from the Masroor Air Base, Pakistan’s largest and a possible depot for nuclear weapons….