US vacating drone air base in Pakistan

2011-12-05 08:53

The United States is vacating an air base in Pakistan used by American drones that target Taliban and al-Qaeda militants, complying with a key demand made by Islamabad in retaliation for the Nato airstrikes that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers, the US ambassador said today.

The move is not expected to significantly curtail drone attacks in Pakistan, since Shamsi air base in southwestern Baluchistan province was only used to service drones that had mechanical or weather difficulties.

But Washington’s decision to leave the base shows how the Nato attacks on November 26 have plunged the already strained US-Pakistan relationship to an all-time low.

The crisis threatens US attempts to get Pakistan to cooperate on winding down the Afghan war.

Pakistan immediately retaliated by blocking its Afghan border crossings to Nato supplies and giving the US 15 days to vacate Shamsi – a deadline that falls on December 11.

It is also boycotting an international conference in Bonn, Germany, aimed at stabilising Afghanistan.

US Ambassador Cameron Munter said in a local TV interview that Washington was doing its best to comply with Pakistan’s demand to leave the air base.

“I think what we can promise you is that we will do everything we can to vacate the Shamsi base by the date that you asked us,” said Munter.

The ambassador did not mention the use of the base by American drones.

The US does not acknowledge the CIA-run drone programme in Pakistan publicly, but American officials have said privately that the strikes have killed many senior Taliban and al-Qaeda commanders.

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