ISLAMABAD: American aircraft reached Pakistan on Sunday to airlift US nationals who are vacating the Shamsi airbase in the Washuk district of Balochistan, military authorities confirmed to The Express Tribune.
“Two US aircraft landed at the Shamsi airbase today (Sunday) to airlift personnel and equipment ahead of the December 15 deadline set by the Pakistan government for vacating the facility,” an official of the Balochistan government confirmed to The Express Tribune.
Sources said the passengers were shifted to the plane amidst strict security. Officials from the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) were also present at the site, Express News reported. Additionally, equipment was loaded onto the aircraft, while drones stood in nearby hangars.
Residents living around the area were told not to leave their homes while the American nationals were being shifted to the aircraft.
The base was in use of the United Arab Emirates rulers, who used to visit Pakistan for hunting, until the catastrophic attacks of 9/11 on the World Trade Centre and Pentagon. After Pakistan’s joining the US-led war on terror, the base was given to the American military as part of logistical support.
However, Pakistan demanded that the US leave the remote airbase and blocked ground supply routes to US forces in Afghanistan, following the Nato air raids on military outposts on November 26 that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.
The controversial airbase, located about 300 kilometres from Quetta, has been used as a key launch pad for drone strikes in Afghanistan and allegedly also for those carried out in Pakistan’s own tribal areas.
This is the third time Pakistan has demanded the US to vacate the base. Similar demands were made after CIA operative Raymond Davis killed two Pakistanis in Lahore and in the aftermath of the unilateral US raid that killed Osama bin Laden.
One US government source earlier told The Express Tribune that the US has spent months preparing for a possible eviction from the airbase by building up other drone launching and staging capability.
Earlier this year, after the US raid that killed bin Laden, some Pakistani officials demanded that Washington vacate the Shamsi facility.
At the time, however, US officials said that American personnel would remain at the base and would continue to conduct drone flights.
US officials had acknowledged that this time Pakistan appears much more resolute about carrying out the eviction threat.
Vacating the airbase was seen more as an inconvenience rather than a critical blow to drone operations, which the US also conducts from Afghanistan and possibly elsewhere.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 5th, 2011.