WASHINGTON / ISLAMABAD: The US is rejecting demands from Pakistan that American personnel abandon a military base used by the CIA to stage drone strikes against militants, US officials told Reuters.
US personnel have not left the Shamsi air base and there is no plan for them to do so, said a US official familiar with the matter. “That base is neither vacated nor being vacated,” the official said. The information was confirmed by a second US official.
On Wednesday, federal Minister for Defence Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar said that US had been asked to stop using the base for drone strikes and vacate it.
Relations between the two uneasy allies deteriorated after the May 2 raid by US SEALs in Abbottabad that killed Osama bin Laden. Wednesday’s statement by Mr Mukhtar was the latest salvo.
“We have been talking to them (on the issue) for some time, but after May 2, we told them again,” he told Reuters on Thursday. “When they (US forces) will not operate from there (Shamsi base), no drone attacks will be carried out.”
Earlier, the Financial Times quoted Mr Mukhtar as saying that Pakistan had already stopped US drone flights from the air base. Despite the defence minister’s statements, it was unclear what the situation at Shamsi is.
A US military official said no American military personnel had ever been stationed at the base, but the drone programme in Pakistan is run by the CIA, and the official declined to comment on that.
Pakistani military officials confirmed that the US had been asked to vacate the base, but wouldn’t comment on when the request had been made or whether the Americans had complied.
“We have told them to leave, vacate our base. We cannot provide security to their people,” a senior air force official told Reuters.
But a member of parliament who represents the area, retired lieutenant general Abdul Qadir Baluch, said that US officials were still at the base.
A senior Pakistani military official added that when US forces first launched counter-terrorism operations in Afghanistan, Pakistan “provided Americans two bases in Jaccobabad and Shamsi. Jacobabad base has been vacated for long time ago, but Shamsi is still with them.”
“They are vacating it,” the official insisted. “Shamsi base was for logistic purpose. They also used it for drones for some time but no drones have been flown from there.”