At least 20 militants stormed the PNS Mehran Base near Shahrah-e-Faisal in Karachi on May 22, triggering explosions and gunbattles three weeks after the US killing of Osama bin Laden. –Photo by AFP

KARACHI: Pakistan's navy says it appears to have regained control of a base that had been attacked and occupied by militants for more than 15 hours.

Spokesman Salman Ali said Monday commandos were still searching the sprawling facility in Karachi but that "apparently there is no more militant resistance."

He says the navy would not release details on militant casualties until the base had been fully searched.

Taliban militants assaulted the headquarters of Pakistan’s naval air force, battling on Monday security forces in the most brazen attack in the country since the killing of Osama bin Laden, killing 13 people, injuring 16 others and blowing up at least two military aircraft.

The dead include 11 navy officials and one Ranger, DawnNews reported.

Blasts rang out and helicopters hovered above the PNS Mehran base near Shahrah-e-Faisal almost 14 hours after more than 20 Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) militants stormed the heavily guarded building with guns and grenades, blowing up at least two aircraft and casting doubt on the military’s ability to protect its installations.

The Pakistan Taliban, which is allied with al Qaeda, said the attack was to avenge the al Qaeda leader’s killing on May 2.

Bin Laden was shot dead by US special forces in a secret operation that Pakistan says breached its sovereignty.

“It was the revenge of martyrdom of Osama bin Laden. It was the proof that we are still united and powerful,” Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan told Reuters by telephone from an undisclosed location.

Trucks carrying military and paramilitary rangers streamed into the base in the southern city of Karachi in the morning, as security forces tried to end the siege.

A senior security official, who declined to be identified, said the militants had taken over a building in the base.

Another official stationed in the base said the militants had not taken any hostages, but added: “There is a chance that some terrorists have suicide belts or jackets.”

Sixteen military men were wounded in the attack, some reports said that at least three militants had been killed while trying to flee but nothing has been confirmed so far.

The base is 15 miles from the Masroor Air Base, Pakistan’s largest and a possible depot for nuclear weapons.

“They were carrying guns, rocket-propelled grenades (RPG) and hand grenades. They hit the aircraft with an RPG,” Navy spokesman Commander Salman Ali said of the militants.

A spokesman said two P-3C Orion, maritime patrol aircraft, had been destroyed and that intermittent gunfire was continuing.

Interior Minister Rehman Malik said earlier that the militants had attacked from the rear of the base. “We have been able to confine them to one building and an operation is underway either to kill or capture them,” he said.

Media reports said the attackers had made their way in through a sewer pipe but that was not confirmed. The military’s goal was to capture as many of the attackers alive as possible, television reported.

The attack evoked memories of an assault on Pakistan’s army headquarters in the city of Rawalpindi in 2009, and is a further embarrassment for the military, widely seen as the only properly functioning institution in Pakistan, in the wake of bin Laden’s killing.

The military has come under intense pressure from the United States and its own people for failing to know that bin Laden had been living in a garrison town, north of the capital and near a top military academy, for years, and also for allowing five US helicopters to penetrate Pakistan’s airspace and kill him.

Wave Of Bombings

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani condemned the attack.

“Such a cowardly act of terror could not deter the commitment of the government and people of Pakistan to fight terrorism,” Gilani said in statement.

Pakistan has faced a wave of assaults over the last few years, many of them claimed by the Pakistani Taliban.

Others have been blamed on al Qaeda-linked militant groups once nurtured by the Pakistani military and which have since slipped out of control.

The Taliban have stepped up attacks since bin Laden’s death, killing almost 80 people in a suicide bombing on a paramilitary academy and an assault on a US consular vehicle in Peshawar.

The TTP is led by Hakimullah Mehsud, whose fighters regularly clash with the army in the northwest. The group also claimed responsibility for a botched plot to bomb New York’s Times Square last year.

The discovery that bin Laden was living in Abbottabad, has revived suspicions that militants may be receiving help from some people within the security establishment.

Washington sees Pakistan as a key, if difficult, ally essential to its attempts to root out militant forces in neighbouring Afghanistan.

“We condemn the attack and our sympathies are with the families of those injured or killed,” the White House said in a statement.

On April 28, suspected militants detonated a roadside bomb in Karachi, killing four members of the navy, the third attack on the navy in a week.

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