Bannu Jailbreak: Echoes of PNS Mehran

Aftermath of Taliban attack on Bannu prisonKhyber Pakhtunkhwa was the sight of another massive attack before the sun rose on Saturday. No, this was not a ‘night raid’ of American agents or another cross-border raid of US special forces. The attack against a secured prison was carried out by militants that some politicians continue pretending don’t exist.

Early Saturday morning, 100 to 150 militants carried out the biggest fail-break in the country’s history, and freed hundreds of prisoners including hardcore militant fighters.

According to an official, 100 to 150 militants arrived on pick-ups at about 1.30am and attacked the prison housing over 900 inmates after blowing up the main gates with rocket-propelled grenades.

They broke open locks of cells, including those housing hardened criminals and condemned prisoners and blasted metal doors, the official said.

“The attackers appeared to be in control of the prison for more than two hours. The guards offered little or no resistance after the militants asked them to step aside.”

Faced with an attack by hundreds of militants armed to the teeth with weapons including rocket launchers, the guards might be forgiven for standing aside during the attack. But officials made another discovery that should send chills.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa police chief Akbar Khan Hoti…quoted the prison guards as saying that the attackers had accurate information about cells in which militants had been kept…Police arrived at the place only when the militants had escaped after freeing the prisoners, he said.

A senior Taliban commander confirmed that the raid’s success was made possible by help from insiders.

“We had maps of the area and we had complete maps and plans of the jail as well,” the commander, a senior member of the Taliban, told Reuters.

“All I have to say is we have people who support us in Bannu. It was with their support that this operation was successful.”

Does this sound familiar? It should.

Barely more than one year ago, a group of militant fighters carried out an attack on PNS Mehran in which they managed to take control of the base for more than 15 hours, destroying critical security assets and killing Pakistani soldiers without mercy. Following this attack also, officials stated that the attackers had advance knowledge of their target from inside sources.

“The attackers knew that the navy’s prized assets such as the Orion aircraft and the Chinese and American personnel were present on our base and they came specifically after them,” a senior navy officer said, admitting that no one on the outside could have known about it.

He said the attackers knew the base “inside out” and were well aware of the points where they would have “an advantage over the security forces” who would engage them.

Last month I wrote about the real cover war against Pakistan – the one being waged not by invisible ‘foreign agents’ but by very visible militants with very real weapons who are carrying out very real attacks. This latest attack is being reported as a ‘jail break’, but the facts of the case show that it is more than the actions of a band of dacoits trying to rescue a fellow criminal – it is part of an orchestrated campaign against the security of the state being carried out by armed militants with the support of ‘hidden hands’ from inside our own gates. Will we wake up in time to stop them?

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