(Updates with Gilani’s comments on blockade in eighth paragraph.)
Dec. 12 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. withdrew its last personnel from a Pakistani military base it used to launch Predator drone missions in response to a demand made after a NATO strike killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.
Already tense U.S.-Pakistan relations were further stretched by the Nov. 25 attack on Pakistani army posts along the border with Afghanistan. The U.S. and NATO have denied Pakistani assertions that the raid was deliberate and have begun an investigation into the killings in a region where Pakistani forces have been battling Taliban militants.
“The last flight carrying leftover U.S. personnel and equipment departed Shamsi Base today and the base has been completely vacated,” the Pakistani military said yesterday in an e-mailed statement. “The control of the base has been taken over by the army.”
Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani’s government is reviewing the terms of its agreements with the U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar said in Dec. 8 in comments broadcast by television channels. The border incident triggered an angry backlash in Pakistan with protest rallies in major cities.
“The closure of Shamsi indicates that Pakistani generals this time want the U.S. to accommodate their demands and not weaken them in front of their soldiers and the public,” said Rashid Khan, a professor of international relations at the University of Sargodha in central Pakistan.
Bin Laden Attack
The U.S. and Pakistan have been trying to stabilize ties after a year that included the detention of a CIA contract employee for killing two Pakistanis, the unilateral American raid near Islamabad that that killed al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in May, and public accusations by top U.S. officials that Pakistan’s army is actively aiding militant groups.
Nuclear-armed Pakistan has also closed border crossings to trucks carrying supplies for U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan, and boycotted an international conference on Afghanistan held in Bonn.
Pakistan may continue to block NATO war supplies for weeks and could consider closing the country’s airspace to the U.S., the BBC reported today, citing an interview with Gilani.
U.S. forces used the Shamsi base in their fight against al- Qaeda and Taliban militants who move between Pakistan’s northwestern tribal areas and Afghanistan.
The Central Intelligence Agency, the primary tenant at the Shamsi base, already has relocated its drone operations to facilities inside Afghanistan, including the airbase in Kandahar where the Lockheed Martin RQ-170 Sentinel that was used to support the May raid that killed bin Laden in Abbottabad was based.
The shift will not have a significant effect on either surveillance or armed drone missions, U.S. intelligence officials said, because Shamsi was used primarily to repair drones.
The U.S. and Pakistan conducted a joint investigation last year after a similar border incident involving several Pakistani deaths. In that case, NATO apologized.
--With assistance from Gregory Viscusi in Paris and John Walcott in Washington D.C.
--With assistance from Gregory Viscusi in Paris and John Walcott in Washington. Editors: Francis Harris, Mark Williams
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