The attack on PNS Mehran, the Pakistan Navy’s main operational airbase in Karachi, has spectacularly underlined shortcomings in both intelligence and airbase security.
According to the Associated Press of Pakistan and the military’s Inter Services Press Release, one officer and a rating are confirmed casualties, and two other personnel have been wounded in the attack, which commenced at 11:30 p.m. local time Sunday.
As the operation wound down, media reports here claimed 12 soldiers to have been killed.
The navy declined to give any further details of the operation against “a dozen” hand and rocket propelled grenade wielding Taliban terrorists who infiltrated the base and destroyed at least one aircraft.
It is thought to be a P-3C Orion, but the naval spokesman would not confirm this.
He said further details would be given when they could be confirmed after the completion of the operation.
The spokesman did, however, categorically state that there was no hostage situation, and no foreign personnel were present.
Confusion reigns however, as other media including the BBC have cited the navy as confirming there was a hostage situation and that there were Chinese personnel present.
It is thought any Chinese personnel present would be technicians connected with the Harbin Z-9EC ASW helicopter program.
Analyst Haris Khan of the Pakistan Military Consortium think tank said he believes the destroyed aircraft to be a P-3C, saying it had been “gutted.” He also said he believes another P-3C to have been badly damaged.
Though the larger patrol aircraft are kept on the flight apron at PNS Mehran, rotary assets are usually housed in hangars, which officials have admitted were attacked.
He said the attack was a potentially crippling blow to the navy as nearly all its naval assets were based at Mehran.
“An additional naval air base has been under construction at Omara/Jinnah Naval Base since 2002, but has not been completed due to lack of funds”, he said.
Visually, security at Mehran was tight, but having long been surrounded by an expanding city, it proved to be a relatively easy target.
Khan said he believes the “national security structure” is in a poor state, and the attack to be the result a long list of intelligence failures that have allowed terrorist cells to remain undetected in Pakistan’s cities.
Unless this is reversed, he said, “terrorists will be able to mount such operations with impunity.”
With the Taliban seeking revenge for the death of Osama bin Laden, further attacks are expected.
Islamabad – Usman Ansari, DefenseNews