Pakistan News – Pakistan has demanded that NATO and the United States leave the Shamsi air base within 15 days after a drone airstrike killed 24 Pakistani soldiers near the Afghanistan border.
The US military confirmed Sunday that they vacated the air base on Sunday. Three sources, who declined to be identified because of the issue’s sensitivity, said planning was already under way to leave the base, which is a remote facility in Baluchistan that has been a point of contention.
Pakistan has also blocked ground supply routes through its country to U.S. forces in Afghanistan. On Tuesday Islamabad decided to withdraw from a U.S.-backed meeting on Afghanistan taking place next week in Bonn, Germany.
The cross-border incident escalated tensions between the two countries and the U.S. military is conducting an investigation to find out exactly what happened on the ground.
The moves by the Pakistanis to block ground supply routes and the air base were not expected to significantly hinder U.S. operations.
One U.S. government source said the United States has spent months preparing for a possible eviction from the Pakistan base by building up other drone launching and staging capability.
Earlier this year, after the U.S. raid that killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, some Pakistani officials demanded that Washington vacate the Shamsi facility.
But in one concession, the United States stopped conducting lethal drone operations from that base and limited operations to surveillance flights.
U.S. officials believe that this time Pakistan appears much more resolute about carrying out the eviction threat. Vacating the air base was seen more as an inconvenience rather than a critical blow to drone operations which the United States also conducts from Afghanistan and possibly elsewhere.
The unmanned aerial vehicles may have a longer flight from Afghanistan but they are capable of hovering overhead for hours as they seek to spot suspicious activity and follow militants.
U.S. officials are reluctant to openly talk about drone operations because they are considered a covert CIA activity.
General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the U.S. military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, in London this week addressed the Shamsi issue without acknowledging the use of drones at the base.