M A I N   N E W S

Pak frees airbase after a 16-hr battle with Taliban
P-3C Orion aircraft destroyed; 14 killed
Afzal Khan in Islamabad

Pakistani commandos today regained control of a key military airbase here that was stormed by Taliban fighters after 16 hours of gun battles that killed 10 security personnel and destroyed two US-made surveillance planes.

Interior Minister Rehman Malik and naval chief Admiral Noman Bashir separately talking to newsmen confirmed that two P-3C Orion aircraft acquired from the US were destroyed. The destruction of the surveillance aircraft was termed as a crippling blow by defence experts to the country’s navy.

Four militants were also killed. They were a part of the group of heavily armed terrorists who made the brazen attack on PNS Mehran, the naval air station within Faisal airbase, at about 10.40 pm last night.

Within minutes of entering the base, the attackers lobbed grenades and fired rockets that destroyed two US-made P3C Orion maritime surveillance aircraft.

The attackers then exchanged heavy fire with security forces within the airbase before being holed up in several buildings.

Scores of elite naval and army commandos were brought in to flush out the terrorists and the operation to clear the airbase ended this afternoon.

Malik told reporters that 10 security personnel, including a navy lieutenant and three naval commandos, were killed and 15 others injured. The attack was carried out by about six terrorists, four of whom had died while two got away, he said.

At least one of the dead terrorists was a suicide bomber who blew himself up, Malik said. The minister initially said 15 security personnel had died in the attack but subsequently revised the figure.

Malik said 17 foreigners who were on the airbase, including 11 Chinese and six Americans, were removed to safety by security forces. All of them were safely whisked away while fierce shootout was on between the militants and the commandos.

The Naval chief told reporters the attackers were trained and experienced fighters who were crack marksmen. They caused considerable damage to the airbase by firing rockets, he said.

“Those who want to destabilise Pakistan, look at their goals and targets. They are destroying those assets bought with national funds which would be needed by the military in the event of hostilities,” Malik said.

As more details emerged of the attack, it appeared it was carried out by a much small group of terrorists than was earlier reported.

Officials said the attackers sneaked up to the perimeter of the airbase by moving along the Malir river. They cut through barbed wire barricades and entered in three groups, Malik said.

A photograph of one of the dead terrorists provided to the media by Malik showed a young man wearing dark blue or grey clothes and sneakers.

Malik said the attackers were aged between 22 and 25 but evaded questions about their ethnicity. “They were fair and sharp featured,” he said. A probe will be conducted by the police, paramilitary Pakistan Rangers and intelligence agencies to establish the identity of the attackers and their facilitators, he said.

Taliban and Al-Qaida had vowed to avenge bin Laden’s killing by carrying out attacks in Pakistan and the US. The attack will add to the embarrassment of the Pakistani military, which has faced tremendous criticism for failing to detect bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad.

The high-security area where the attack occurred houses the PAF’s Southern Air Command, Air War College and museum as well as PNS Mehran, the main naval air station in Karachi. (With inputs from agencies)

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