Pakistani militants infiltrate naval base just 15 miles from suspected nuclear site

The fact that Taliban militants were able to penetrate a Pakistani naval base deepens concerns about the military's competence and ability to protect the country's nuclear arsenal.

Shakil Adil/AP
Fire and smoke rises from a Pakistani naval aviation base, following an attack by militants in Karachi, Pakistan, Sunday, May 22. Militants attacked a naval aviation base in the southern Pakistani city of Karachi late Sunday, rocking the base with explosions and battling commandos sent in to subdue the attackers, security officials said.

Pakistani commandos ended a 15-hour militant siege on a naval base in Karachi, which the Pakistani Taliban said they launched in revenge for Osama bin Laden's death in an American raid.

The Taliban militants were apparently able to infiltrate Naval Station Mehran (see map here) and attack it from within in, dealing another blow to the credibility of Pakistan's military, which is still reeling from the discovery that Mr. bin Laden had been hiding for years in a Pakistani garrison town. The naval station is located 15 miles from the country's largest air base, which is a suspected nuclear weapon storage site, Pakistan's Dawn newspaper reports. (See map here.)

Between 10 to 15 militants sneaked onto the naval base with various weapons, destroying two planes supplied by the US military and killing 12 of the base's security officers, the Associated Press reports, calling it one of the "most audacious" raids in the country's history of militant violence. The attack not only raises questions about the Pakistani military's competency, particularly its ability to protect the country's nuclear weapon arsenal, but also reinforces suspicions that some members of the military are double-dealing with militants.

The scale and success of the attack make it likely that there was inside help, Time Magazine reports.

Analysts believe that the success of an apparently well-organized attack on this scale would have required at least some complicity from within the military. A former navy official told ARY News that the assault appeared to have been planned from a map of the facility. The perpetrators of previous attacks, like the October 2009 siege of the army's general headquarters, were found to have links to low-ranking military personnel with fundamentalist sympathies.

According to a Guardian report, the militants headed immediately for the base's aircraft hangars, possibly signaling that they had access to maps of the naval station beforehand.

Reuters reports that the Pakistani military has been struggling for years to determine whether it has members who are also working with the militants. US diplomatic cables from 2006 reflect concern in the Pakistani air force about radicalization and minor attempts at sabotage of planes used for operations along the Afghan border.

The attack on Mehran is the worst since a similar incident in 2009, when militants stormed army headquarters in the city of Rawalpindi and took hostages. At the end of the 22-hour standoff there, 23 were dead, the Los Angeles Times reports.

A roundup by the Dawn of Tweets related to the Mehran incident reflected a mix of conspiracy theories and worries about what the attack implied about the military's competency. "Reminds me of Ojiri camp Rawalpindi in the 80's. US destroying their assets from falling into [enemy] hands," one person said. Another cast doubt on militants working alone: "The attack was highly coordinated, they knew where to go and what to hit."

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