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10 Pakistani troops killed in gun battle at naval base

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Militants attack naval base
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Pentagon spokesman: Two P-3C Orion aircraft are destroyed
  • "We have daily 9/11 in this country," Pakistan's interior minister says
  • The Pakistani navy says the base "has been cleared from the terrorists"
  • A Taliban confederation says the attack is to avenge the killing of civilians by security forces

Islamabad, Pakistan (CNN) -- At least 10 members of Pakistan's military were killed in a gun battle with Taliban militants at a naval base in the coastal city of Karachi, authorities said Monday.

The clashes raged for hours after attackers with guns and grenades stormed the compound Sunday night. By Monday afternoon, the base had "been cleared from the terrorists," a Pakistani navy spokesman said.

In addition to the 10 dead, at least 15 other Pakistani troops were wounded in the fighting, Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik said.

Investigators have found the bodies of three attackers and believe a fourth is buried in debris, he said. They suspect two militants escaped, he said, citing witness reports.

The Pakistani Taliban said the attack at the Mehran naval air station was to avenge the killing of innocent civilians. The group's spokesman, Ihsan Ullah, told CNN on Monday that Pakistani security forces are carrying out those killings on the instruction of the United States in the name of a "war on terror."

One of the attackers had detonated a suicide jacket, Malik said, and another one was found wearing an undetonated jacket.

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"We have daily 9/11 in this country. You see how we are suffering," he said. "And therefore, this is my appeal to the international community ... trust us, trust us, because this is a time we need you to support us morally."

Authorities said militants wielding rocket launchers, automatic weapons and hand grenades attacked the base about 11 p.m. Sunday. They used ladders to scale a wall at the back of the base and jumped into the compound, Malik said.

Two witnesses -- Amjad Bashir and Talha Hashmi -- reported at least 10 explosions in the subsequent hours.

Each blast was typically followed by a sustained exchange of gunfire, Hashmi said.

He said that several of the explosions -- thought to be the result of two military aircraft and a fuel tank catching fire and releasing plumes of smoke -- were particularly large.

The attackers destroyed two P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft sold by the United States to Pakistan, Pentagon spokesman Col. Dave Lapan said. Six American contractors at the base during the attack moved to safety and were not injured, he said.

The nation's military personnel responded with what an Malik called a "major operation" at the base, which is about 10 kilometers (6 miles) from Karachi's main airport.

According to the Pakistani navy's website, the Mehran base "is efficiently supporting day and night operational activities of all (naval aviation) squadrons." A host of courses are also offered on its grounds, from helicopter and air navigation instruction to sea survival.

The Pakistani Taliban represents a confederation of Taliban groups in northwestern Pakistan, where they are based. The group, which is headquartered in Quetta, is separate from the Afghan Taliban, which has been focused on re-establishing the Islamic Emirate in Afghanistan. Both groups swear allegiance to Taliban leader Mullah Omar and have close ties to al Qaeda.

Karachi, which is considered the main commercial hub of Pakistan, has seen a drastic increase in political, ethnic and religious violence in recent months.

Just over three weeks ago, three people were killed and at least 20 were injured when a hand grenade exploded at a gambling club in the southern Pakistani city.

The grenade was tossed into the club by one of two unidentified people riding past the facility on a motorbike, according to Javed Baloch, a senior police official in Karachi.

The Taliban said it was behind an April 28 roadside bombing on a main road through Karachi that left at least five dead and 10 injured.

Two days earlier, three were killed and more than 30 wounded when remote-controlled bombs detonated near two buses carrying Pakistani navy officials.

CNN's Tim Schwarz, Stan Grant, Nasir Habib, Greg Botelho, Jack Maddox, Aliza Kassim and Charley Keyes contributed to this report.

 
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