US leaving Shamsi base won't have big impact on air war

Published: December 12, 2011

A view of Shamsi Airbase in Balochistan. PHOTO: EXPRESS/FILE

KARACHI: The US decision to vacate a remote base used for staging drone flights directed at militants will have little impact on the American air campaign, a senior Pakistani military source said on Monday, but the move is a big political win for Pakistan.

US personnel completed their departure from Shamsi Airfield, 320 km (200 miles) southwest of Quetta. The operation began on about December 5, after a NATO cross-border strike killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.

That strike enraged Pakistan, allowing it push through a longstanding demand that the Americans leave Shamsi. But a Pakistani military source said their departure would have little impact on the drone campaign.

“The Shamsi base was more of a maintenance and refueling base for the drones, while most of the operations are conducted from across the border,” he said.

“Technically speaking, yes, the vacation of this base should have an impact on the drone operations, but it remains to be seen as to how big an impact this would be.”

The source said the United States had at least two other bases in Afghanistan it could use.

The last US personnel left the base at about 12:15 pm, according to a senior security official who requested anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the media. Twenty-one cargo flights in the last 10 days helped with the evacuation. Pakistani security forces now control the base.

Pakistanis saw the US departure as a significant victory.

“It’s a big move politically, and does show that we are asserting ourselves and won’t tolerate any such acts any more,” the senior military source said.

“It also shows that the military as well as the government are on the same note on this issue, and so I will call it a significant move to get the base vacated.”

The Pakistani airbase had been used by US forces, including the CIA, to stage elements of a clandestine US counter-terrorism operation to attack suspected encampments of militants associated with al Qaeda and the Taliban, using unmanned drone aircraft armed with missiles.

President Barack Obama stepped up the drone campaign after he took office. US officials say it has produced major successes in decimating the central leadership of al Qaeda and putting associated militant groups on the defensive.

Pakistani authorities started threatening US personnel with eviction from the Shamsi base after the raid last May in which US commandos killed Osama bin Laden at his hide-out without notifying Pakistani officials in advance.

In an attempt to mollify the Pakistanis, US authorities began limiting drone flights from the base to non-lethal surveillance flights. But following the latest deadly NATO air strike, Pakistani authorities renewed and stepped up pressure on the United States to vacate the base entirely.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, in an interview with the BBC, said Pakistan could take further retaliatory action, including possibly closing its airspace to the United States.

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Reader Comments (17)

  • Dec 12, 2011 - 6:08PM

    we should put aside political blames and focus on defences of pakistan against the aggression of foreign forces.

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  • david
    Dec 12, 2011 - 6:33PM

    that’s missing the point.
    the Pakistani nation isn’t really bothered how the air war goes.
    we just want the Americans OUT!Recommend

  • MUNIB
    Dec 12, 2011 - 7:13PM

    Pakistani governemnt is fooling its own nation. USA had already said after May 2 incident that they are leaving SHAMSI AIR base because they dont need it anymore for attacks and its being just for surveillance.

    People of PAK think as if they have scared the USA/NATO or something. We live in fool’s paradise.Recommend

  • belaar
    Dec 12, 2011 - 7:16PM

    Pakistan may reassert its sovereignty by forcing the U.S out of Shamsi airbase in Balochistan. However the Baloch are united to question the legitimacy of Pakistani control of their country, Balochistan.

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  • bangash
    Dec 12, 2011 - 7:29PM

    Pakistani government lied for 10 years that there were no US forces at Shamsi airbase. Now they claim a big political win that US forces have left!

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  • Acorn Guts
    Dec 12, 2011 - 7:30PM

    Twenty-one cargo flights in the last 10 days helped with the evacuation.

    Hmm and yet they play-down the impact this evacuation will have on the US strategy.

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  • saleem ullah
    Dec 12, 2011 - 7:44PM

    This is little unjustified that evacuation of Shamsi base by US does not have a bad effect on her Air Force capability in Afghanistan . Now the lesson learnt to us is that in future ; Pakistan must not offer these type of facilities to any of the global player.

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  • Someone
    Dec 12, 2011 - 8:38PM

    @belaar: We Sikhs request you Indians to free our occupied country, Indian Punjab. Khalistan shall be created soon

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  • G.A.
    Dec 12, 2011 - 9:00PM

    @saleem ullah: Your inference is quite right but this needs alot of will power and determination from our side!

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  • Yohan
    Dec 12, 2011 - 9:50PM

    Sure, the US military strategists will have their ‘Plan B’ in place. But what is the ‘Plan B’ we have in Pakistan when the the Billions we were receiving stop flowing in? After a few weeks time, we will find our PM and Arm Chief visiting US, smiling wide and saying all are Ok now…We must achieve our financial freedom, or the courage to eat grass and walk straight. Do we have it?

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  • Proud Naxal
    Dec 12, 2011 - 10:14PM

    @ belaar

    First you Indians take your occupying forces out from our country Assam then talk about others.

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  • Nascar fan
    Dec 12, 2011 - 10:45PM

    Good luck my Pakistani friends, and take good care of those nukes.

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  • Maher Chebbo
    Dec 12, 2011 - 11:08PM

    It’s a good news that the Americans have vacated Shamsi base. They wanted in fact to create chaos in Pakistan and inseminate a civil war situation. This was due to wrong policy of Musharaf who was not a man of vision, who succumed to American threat. Now the Parliament should vote a permanent legislation concerning national airspace. No head of the state must be autjhorised to use his dicretionary power on such matters.

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  • WoW
    Dec 12, 2011 - 11:34PM

    @zamasoch: You can start with getting part of Azard Kashmir from the Chines that Pak has ceded to them.

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  • Grace
    Dec 13, 2011 - 12:25AM

    @Proud Naxal: Perhaps when India respects the UN resolution on allowing Kashmir to vote on its future, you can comment here. As for drone attacks, probably they won’t decrease but that’s not the point. Pakistan should assert its sovereignty and I like the principle that the anyone needs to respect the lives of Pakistani soldiers.

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  • belaar
    Dec 13, 2011 - 12:53AM

    By portraying the Baloch Cause as a foreign conspiracy against the God-given state does not legitimise slow motion genocide in Balochistan; nor does it change the historical fact: Pakistan Occupied Balochistan in 27 March 1948.

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  • Isaaq
    Dec 13, 2011 - 3:35AM

    The fact that a little-used airbase has been vacated means next to nothing. Pakistan publically condemns the drone strikes but it is glaringly obvious that they have given tacit approval for such attacks in the first place. They could put an end to the attacks tomorrow by shooting one down over their sovereign airspace. But my point is not that. My point is that the drone strikes and Pakistan’s vocal criticism of them shows the true nature of the Pakistani authorities – they are the ultimate hypocrites and liars. The solution: End the drone flights, seal the border, and eliminate the terrorists before it’s too late.

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