KARACHI (Reuters) - Three senior Pakistan Navy officers are facing court martial in connection with the attack on a naval air base in Karachi in May, an official said on Thursday, in a rare public sign of accountability in the powerful military establishment.
The brazen assault on the PNS Mehran base embarrassed the military and raised doubts about its ability to protect its bases after a similar raid on the army headquarters in Rawalpindi in 2009.
“We had set up a board of inquiry, and after its report, court martial proceedings have been initiated against three officers,” a senior navy official told Reuters, requesting not to be named because he is not authorised to speak to the media.
The officers being tried include Commodore Raja Tahir, the commander of the PNS Mehran who was relieved of his command two days after the attack. At that time, the navy had insisted that it was a “routine and scheduled” transfer.
However, the naval official said that the initiation of the trial does not mean that the officers were in some way connected with the attack.
“They are being tried because they were at a responsible position, and were responsible for the security and other affairs of the base,” he said.
Pakistani security officials had earlier detained a former navy commando and his brother in connection with the raid.
A naval spokesman in Islamabad could not be immediately reached for comment.
The Mehran base attack came nearly three weeks after U.S. Navy SEALs killed al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden in a secret raid in the northwestern Pakistani garrison town of Abbottabad on May 2.
Pakistani Taliban, allied with al Qaeda, have vowed revenge for bin Laden’s death.
As few as six militants infiltrated the PNS Mehran naval base in Karachi, the headquarters of the navy’s air wing, killing 10 security forces and wounding 20.
The militants, who besieged the base for 16 hours, also destroyed two P-3C Orion aircraft from the Unites States, crucial for Pakistan’s maritime surveillance capabilities.
The daring raid was another humiliation for the military, which had already been unable to explain how the al Qaeda chief hid in the country for years or how the Americans could launch the attack deep inside their territory.
The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack on the Mehran base, but many analysts believe they had an inside help.
Pakistan has faced a wave of assaults over the last few years, many of them claimed by the Pakistani Taliban and other al Qaeda-linked militant groups.
In October 2009, a small group of militants attacked the army’s General Headquarters in Rawalpindi, taking 42 people hostage, including several officers. By the end of the day-long siege, nine gunmen, 11 soldiers and three hostages were dead.
Additional reporting by Augustine Anthony in Islamabad; Editing by Chris Allbritton and Alex Richardson