By Syed Shoaib Hasan BBC News, Karachi, May 23, 2011
The deadly 15-hour siege on Pakistan's Mehran naval airbase in Karachi on Monday was carried out by attackers with military-level training, raising suspicions they had inside help.
Questions are being asked about the security of Pakistan's vital military installations after a well-organised group of gunmen held off Pakistan's equivalent of the US Navy Seals - the Special Services Group-Navy (SSG-N) - for 15 hours.
The SSG-N is said to be the most formidable fighting force in Pakistan, but - for a few hours at least - they appeared to be at the mercy of a brazen group of fighters.
"They weren't any ordinary militants - certainly not the Taliban," said one security official, who wished to remain unnamed.
"The aim of all Taliban attacks is maximum death and destruction - these men were very focused on what they were after."
Speed and organisation
From the beginning it was clear the attackers had an intricate knowledge of the base and its vulnerable areas. They were tactically assured and the operation had clearly been long in the planning.
"They came over the wall cutting the wire on the eastern side of the base," another official told the BBC, adding that it was one of the weak points. The militants knew and exploited this - just one piece of inside knowledge they had.
"That side is just next to the runway - and the guard tower is at a distance because planes land regularly."
The first time the militants were seen was when they appeared on the runway, weapons at the ready. "The [navy] men couldn't believe their eyes," says the official.
A number of officials listed to me their observations, which reinforced the conviction that they were being confronted with a new kind of militant attack:
- Military formation: One injured sailor told an official that the attackers "moved and dressed like us". The militants moved in tactical military formation and spoke in military parlance. They spoke between themselves in Urdu, as well as a foreign language.
- Clothing and equipment: The militants wore combat fatigues, according to officials - and had night vision goggles, carrying rocket propelled grenades [RPGs]. "It takes months of training for ease with the goggles, and years to be expert," an official told me.
- Tactics and a plan: One witness said that even though the militants had clear sight of them, "they ignored us... Instead, they just aimed RPGs at the two Orions [planes] parked on the tarmac." They were clearly under instructions to destroy military hardware. They also changed tactics easily and broke away in groups, which clearly had different aims.
- Crack shots: "They were excellent shots - as good as any we have," said a security official involved in the operation. They used their night vision goggles to maximum effect, witnesses say - and that was an advantage they had until the SSG-N team arrived at the scene. When the gun battle began, one security official said, it was clear that these men could "hold their own" in a firefight. The fact that they had M16 carbines and sniper rifles also set them apart.
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Relevent - Varying Theories:
Naval base attack — shattering some myths - Aqil Shah, Express Tribune
Journalists and conspiracy theories abound in Karachi - Reuters
Foreigners were attacked during evacuation - Dawn
MWM sees a Zionist conspiracy in PN airbase attack - Daily Times
Dangerous Nexus - The News (April 29, 2011 - about previous attacks in Karachi
Details Emerge of a Deadly Raid on a Pakistani Base - TIME