By Ansar Abbasi
ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has stopped all US operations from the Shamsi Air Base in Balochistan, an airport which was given to American forces for use after 9/11 and drone attacks were launched from the base on targets in the tribal areas, military sources have confirmed. It was also used extensively in 2001 when thousands of US sorties took off to bomb Afghanistan a few weeks after the 9/11 attack in New York.
As the relations between Islamabad and Washington have strained due to latter’s mounting interference and repeated breach of Pakistan’s sovereignty, the US Embassy spokesman, Alberto Rodriguez, confirmed that there are no US forces at the Shamsi Air Base in Balochistan.
Pakistan Air Force (PAF) spokesperson, when approached about his version on the vacation of US forces and the deadly drones from Shamsi airfield, explained that the airfield does not belong to the PAF while the Pakistan Army sources confirmed that the airfield was free from the American forces.
No one was prepared to share with The News the dates or the time period when the Shamsi airfield was vacated by the Americans although the sources insist that it is a recent development.
Almost a year back, Defence Minister Ahmad Mukhtar spoke on the topic of the Shamsi Air Base confirming that it was being used by American forces for logistical purposes but, he added, the government was not satisfied with payments for the use of the facility.
Mukhtar, however, did not go into the nature of airfield’s use by the American forces. Prior to Shamsi, Pakistan had also got vacated from the US forces the Jacobabad Air Base and Pasni, which were used for its operations in Afghanistan.
The US has been using the Shamsi Air Base in Balochistan province to station unmanned Predator drones that have been used to attack terrorist targets inside Pakistan’s tribal areas. Shamsi airfield, also called Bandari, is a small airfield and air station located about 200 miles southwest of Quetta near the town of Washki.
In 2009, media reports revealed that the airfield was used by the United States Central Intelligence Agency as a base for Predator drone attacks on so-called militants in Pakistan’s tribal areas but ended up killing several hundreds innocent people. On January 9, 2002 a US Marine Corps KC-130 aircraft reportedly crashed on approach to Shamsi. All seven crew members were killed in the crash.
In February 2009, The Times of London had announced that it had obtained Google images from 2006 which showed Predator aircraft parked outside a hangar at the end of the runway of the Shamsi airfield. Before that, a US Senator Dianne Feinstein said that the CIA was basing its drone aircraft in Pakistan. The US company Blackwater was also reported to have a presence there, hired by the government to arm the drones with missiles.
It was General Musharraf who had permitted the US to use its airbases not only to attack Afghanistan but also to launch drone attacks on the people of Pakistan in the name of the so-called war on terror. The present regime also continued with Musharraf’s policies and allowed much larger number of drone attacks than before.
WikiLeaks had revealed that Prime Minister Gilani had endorsed the drones’ policy. Gilani was reported to have even said to the US officials that his government would raise hue and cry over these drone attacks for the sake of countering the public pressure.
However, of late and after the Raymond Davis episode, things became extremely tense between Washington and Islamabad with the CIA insisting to carry on with its operations, including the drone attacks inside Pakistan, while the ISI is adamant to restricting the Americans from crossing the red-line.