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US vacates Pakistan airbase

The United States has vacated a Pakistani airbase
following a deadline given by Islamabad in the wake of anger over NATO
air strikes last month that killed 24 soldiers, officials said.

Pakistan’s
military said in a statement that the last flight carrying US personnel
and equipment had left Shamsi airbase, in the south-western province of
Baluchistan, completing a process that began last week.
Islamabad’s
fragile alliance with the United States crashed to new lows in the wake
of the November 26 NATO air strikes that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers
and which the Pakistan military called a deliberate attack.
The
base was widely believed to have been used in covert CIA drone attacks
against the Taliban and Al Qaeda commanders in north-west Pakistan’s
tribal areas, which border Afghanistan.
“The control of the base has been taken over by the Army,” the statement from Pakistan said.
A
senior security official requesting anonymity earlier told AFP: “The
Americans have vacated the Shamsi air base and it has been handed over
to the Pakistani security forces.”
Another official in Baluchistan confirmed that the last batch of US officials left in two flights on Sunday.
Following
the November air strikes, Pakistan closed two border crossings to
Afghanistan to US and NATO supplies and gave American personnel until
Sunday to leave Shamsi airbase.
US ambassador to Islamabad, Cameron Munter, told a Pakistan television channel last week: “We are complying with the request.”
A
security official said the US aircraft left the Pakistani airfield on
Sunday afternoon with the remaining group of 32 US officials and
material.
US president Barack Obama last Sunday expressed
condolences to Pakistan’s president Asif Ali Zardari for the soldier
deaths and said the NATO air strikes that killed them were not a
“deliberate attack.”
But the incident has rocked Washington’s
alliance with its counter-terrorism ally Islamabad, though officials say
neither country can afford a complete break in relations.
US
officials and intelligence analysts have said the covert drone war would
not be affected by the closure of the base as Washington could fly
Predator and Reaper drones out of air fields in neighbouring
Afghanistan.
But the Shamsi air base was supposed to be particularly useful for flights hampered by poor weather conditions.
Islamabad
has tacitly consented to the covert US drone campaign, which many
Pakistanis see as a violation of their country’s sovereignty.

Source: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2011-12-12/us-vacates-pakistan-airbase/3724976

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