The attack on Pakistan’s Mehran naval airbase in Karachi on Monday was carried out by assailants with military-level training.Pakistan officials say the attack was better coordinated, and its member too well-trained to have been Taliban.
These factors, combined with the groups focus on military targets and its possession of detailed base maps lead investigators to believe the attackers may have had inside help.
Pakistani officials reported opinions to the BBC that reinforce the belief they are being confronted with a new type of militant:
- 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,” one 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 one 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.
All of this is in strong contrast to Taliban attackers, who are notoriously lousy shots, and whose focus is on killing people and causing chaos. This group was interested in the destruction of military equipment, and brought food to sustain them for a lengthy siege.