WASHINGTON, July 2: The US State Department said on Saturday that it was not aware if the United States still had military personnel at Shamsi air base and has not seen a specific request from Pakistan to vacate the base.
The Washington Post reported that the US had halted drone strikes from Shamsi three months ago after the Raymond Davis dispute. Since then all strikes that were launched from bases in Afghanistan.
The Post, however, noted in its Saturday report that the US still occupied the Shamsi airbase in Balochistan.
Commenting on Defence Minister Ahmed Mukhtar’s statement that Islamabad had asked the US to vacate the base, Mark Toner, the State Department spokesperson, said he could not speak for a foreign official, but as far as the State Department was concerned, there were no American military personnel at that base.
“We remain committed to our continued cooperation with Pakistan, and that includes counter-terrorism cooperation,” he said. “But as to the specific question about Shamsi air base, I’d refer you to the Pakistanis.”
“So you don’t have any military personnel or military equipment at Shamsi?” he was asked again.
“I’m not aware that we have any military personnel on that base,” he replied.
A journalist also referred to media reports that the US was ignoring Pakistan’s request and was not willing to vacate the base.
Mr Toner noted that these comments were attributed to Pakistani officials and they should be contacted for "comments and clarification of their comments. “I’m not aware that we have any military personnel on that base. I’m going to leave it there.”
“Since the defence minister has gone public saying that, have you received any requests from them?” he was asked.
“That’s a question I can take. I don’t know if we’ve received any formal requests,” Mr Toner replied.
Earlier this week, reports in the US and Pakistani media claimed that Pakistan had forced the United States to stop using Shamsi for launching drone stikes after the May 2 raid on Osama bin Laden's compound and is now asking Washington to vacate the base.
US officials told the Post that the launches were halted in April after a dispute over the CIA contractor who killed two Pakistani citizens in Lahore in January, weeks before the Abbotabad raid.
The report said that the decision to suspend the launches was part of a US effort to "pay attention to the sensitivities" of the Pakistanis.
US officials also told the Post that there was no plan to evacuate the base. "That base is neither vacated nor being vacated," said a US official familiar with the matter.
At the State Department, Mr Toner said since the Abbottabad raid, the US had remained engaged with Pakistan at high levels, from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Director CIA Leon Panetta.
Besides discussing 'difficult issues' with Pakistani officials, the Americans also have made clear to Islamabad that they were committed to working with Pakistan in a constructive way on counterterrorism.
"Pakistan is touched -- in a significant, profound way – by the threat of terrorism. They’ve lost a lot of people to terrorism in Pakistan," he noted.
Mr Toner said the US also has continued to encourage dialogue between India and Pakistan because it saw it as "a very constructive" step.
"We think it’s important that that continue, and we want to see cooperation on many fronts, including counterterrorism, between the two countries," he said.
The US, he said, was trying to build better democratic and other institutions within the country as its interests went beyond counterterrorism.