Three Pakistani naval officers are to face an unprecedented court martial for charges of negligence over a Taliban attack on an air base that took 17 hours to repel and left 10 military personnel dead. The group of heavily armed militants besieged the naval air base in the country’s biggest city of Karachi on May 23-24, destroying two US-made P-3C Orion surveillance aircraft.
It was the deadliest assault on a base since army headquarters was attacked in October 2009 and deeply embarrassed the armed forces, three weeks after US special forces killed Osama bin Laden under their noses in a military town. “Three senior navy officials are to face trial before a court martial,” a senior navy official told AFP on condition of anonymity on Thursday because he was not authorised to release the information to media.
Although Pakistani military installations frequently come under attack from Taliban and Al-Qaeda-linked militants, this would mark the first time senior officers face court martial for negligence in connection to the raids. The navy official told AFP that the accused are Commodore Raja Tahir, who was base commander at the time of the attack but was replaced two days later, and two of his subordinates — a captain and a commander. “They face charges of negligence during the attack on PNS Mehran in May,” the official added, giving no date for the start of the court martial.
The attack deep inside Karachi, the country’s economic hub and largest city with a population of around 18 million, underlined the military’s vulnerability despite perceptions at home of its immense power. At the time, interior minister Rehman Malik refused to acknowledge any security lapse, saying a “rapid” response had prevented bigger losses.
Navy spokesman Commodore Irfan-ul-Haq confirmed only that “departmental action” was being taken on the recommendations of a board of inquiry which was set up to investigate the attack. Another security official told AFP: “These officials are being tried because they were responsible for the security.”
Pakistani agents had arrested a former navy commando and his brother a week after the attack, for which the Taliban claimed responsibility.
In October 2009, Taliban militants besieged army headquarters in the garrison city of Rawalpindi for two days, killing 22 people and raising serious questions as to why it took the military so long to put down the assault. The attack on the base in Karachi was the fourth on the navy in the city in a month after three bombings in late April killed nine people.