The United States has been using a base in Pakistan to station unmanned Predator drones that have been used to attack terrorist targets inside the country's tribal areas, a senior U.S. official told FOX News Thursday.
The confirmation contradicts a stream of previous denials from officials and comes after the Times of London published a Google Earth image apparently showing three U.S. drones at the Shamsi airbase in Pakistan's southwestern province of Baluchistan as early as 2006.
The image -- which is no longer on the site but was obtained by The News, Pakistan's English language daily newspaper -- shows what appear to be three Predator drones outside a hangar at the end of the runway.
The senior U.S. official told FOX News that the U.S. was in fact launching Predator UAV strikes from at least one base in Pakistan, confirming a statement made by U.S. Senate intelligence committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein last week. The California Democrat riled intelligence circles when she seemed to reveal sensitive information about such a Pakistan-based staging ground during a hearing. The official said that slip led to the initial denials from other officials that the U.S. was using Pakistani bases.
The Times also obtained a copy of the Google Earth image, whose coordinates confirm that it is the Shamsi airfield, also known as Bandari, about 200 miles southwest of the Pakistani city of Quetta.
U.S. special forces used the airbase during the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, but the Pakistani Government said in 2006 that the Americans had left and both sides have since denied repeatedly that Washington was using Pakistani bases.
Two senior U.S. defense officials had previously told FOX News that no Predator unmanned aerial vehicles are or have recently been based in Pakistani territory, despite Feinstein's statement. However, they could use the Shamsi air base if they needed to. The base is well known to the U.S. military and was used by the Americans in 2001 and 2002 at the beginning of the war in Afghanistan.
One U.S. official told FOX News the U.S. has been flying "Predators or UAVs" in Pakistan since 2002.
There have been 30 strikes since August with 11 top leaders of Al Qaeda taken out, according to intelligence reports.
Senior officials also confirm that Pakistan has been aiding the U.S. in its Predator unmanned aerial vehicle strikes in Pakistan's tribal areas, despite its leaders' very public protests that they see the strikes as a breach of sovereignty.
Both President Asif Ali Zardari and General Ashraf Kayani, the head of Pakistan's army, have turned a blind eye to the strikes. According to the officials, these two leaders have launched no protests behind the scenes to U.S. officials about the strikes.
Any public protests have been for public consumption inside Pakistan. One official, however, says that not all elements of the Pakistani government are aware of this cooperation or support it -- suggesting other civilian leaders may not be onboard.
FOX News' Jennifer Griffin and Justin Fishel contributed to this report.