Pakistan: U.S. vacates air base

Dec. 12, 2011 at 12:30 AM
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WASHINGTON, Dec. 12 (UPI) -- A U.S. official says U.S. counterterrorism operations in Pakistan will not be weakened by Islamabad's decision to boot Americans off an air base in the country.

The Pakistani military said Sunday the United States, as ordered by the Pakistani government, had vacated the Shamsi air base in Balochistan province, which was believed to have been used by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency for its drone program to hit terrorist hideouts in Pakistan.

"The United States retains robust capabilities to fight al-Qaida and its militant allies," a senior U.S. counterterrorism official told The New York Times. "Our operations will continue."

U.S. relations with Pakistan worsened with the Nov. 26 NATO airstrike in which 24 Pakistani soldiers died. The errant attack outraged Pakistan, which booted the Americans off the Shamsi air base and closed the routes NATO used to supply troops in Afghanistan.

The Times reported the Pentagon and officials in the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama declined comment on the air base development, while the Pakistani military said the base has now been taken over by its army.

The Times said even before leaving the air base, the United States had scaled back its operations there. The report said such drone strikes also are conducted from bases in Afghanistan.

The CIA never publicly comments on its use of drones against terrorists who use their Pakistani havens to launch attacks on U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan.

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