– US forced to leave Pakistan base as relations reach new low after NATO attack that killed 24 (Daily Mail, Dec. 4, 2011):
US military personnel have begun leaving Shamsi air base in Pakistan, after a NATO attack that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers near the Afghan border plunged U.S.-Pakistani relations to an all time low.
More than 70 US marines and CIA operatives are set to leave the base today.
An official told NBC: ‘Two U.S. cargo planes reached Shamsi Airport and the loading of the equipment and other cargo items has also started.’
The Pakistani government had last month demanded the US vacate the air base within 15 days. The US are leaving ahead of their December 11 deadline.
The US is suspected of using the facility to send armed drones to maintain pressure on Taliban and al-Qaeda militants in Pakistan’s tribal region.
The government issued the demand after NATO helicopters and jet fighters allegedly attacked two Pakistan posts along the Afghan border, killing 24 soldiers.
Predator drones were initially allowed to land at Shamsi when they couldn’t get back to Afghanistan.
The U.S. has lessened its dependency on the base since tensions with Pakistan began to flare up a year ago.
Pakistani security troops stationed near the base were on high alert today as the US began its departure.
Roads to the air base have been cordoned off, according to English-language Samaa TV in Pakistan.
Islamabad has also withdrawn from a December 5 conference in Germany on the future of Afghanistan, and prevented convoys from sending supplies to U.S. military in Afghanistan from Pakistan, Fox News reported.
The US offered commiserations for the loss of life, but it has not admitted responsibility for the attack.
Leaving the base is more of an inconvenience than a genuinely strategic blow.
Earlier this year, after the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, some Pakistani officials called for Washington to leave the Shamsi.
The United States has been gearing up for eviction from the airport for months by increasing capability, a source said.
The United States stopped conducting lethal drone operations from the base and have placed a limit on operations to surveillance flights only.
Drones may be in the air longer from Afghanistan but they are built to stay off the ground for hours as they seek to spot activity and monitor militants.