Saturday, January 9, 2010

US Retains One Airbase in Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: The United States has vacated all airbases in Pakistan — except the one in Balochistan —which its forces had been using since the beginning of the war in Afghanistan.

“The Shamsi airbase in Balochistan is still being used by US forces,” an official told Dawn on Friday.

He said that the airbases near Jacobabad, Pasni and Dalbandin had been vacated by the Americans “a long time ago”.

According to him, the Shamsi base, about 300kms southwest of Quetta, was being used for providing logistical support.

But a report published in the Times of London in February 2009 said that the CIA was using the base to launch drones attacks on Al Qaeda and Taliban targets in Pakistan.

The paper published a Google Earth image showing three US drones parked at the base as early as in 2006, and a statement by a US official that the base had been used to launch Predator strikes on targets in tribal areas of Pakistan.

The US special forces used the airbase in 2001 during the invasion of Afghanistan, but in 2006 the government of Pakistan said that they had left and since then both Islamabad and Washington have been saying that the Americans were not using any base in Pakistan.

Some defence analysts here are of the opinion that the US wants to continue to use the Shamsi airbase for a long time.

They say that Pakistan should ask the US to vacate the strategically-located base, particularly after reports have emerged that it wants to expand the area of drone attacks into Balochistan. The reports, however, have been denied by the political and military leadership.

The Shahbaz airbase near Jacobabad, about 480kms north of Karachi, was the last base vacated by US forces, preceded by the ones near Pasni and Dalbandin.

Following the US decision to attack Afghanistan, hundreds of US soldiers were housed in hangars at the airbase.

In early December 2001, Pakistan accepted a US request for a long-term presence at Jacobabad and permitted US Marines to renovate the base and build a concrete hangar for 50 large planes and air-conditioned barracks for troops.

Source:  Pakistan Dawn

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