U.S. Begins Pulling Drones From Pakistan Air Base
Following a NATO strike that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers last month and dropped U.S.-Pakistani relations to a new low, U.S. personnel have started leaving Shamsi air base in Pakistan, a senior Pakistan Army official confirmed to Fox News on Sunday.
According to the official, U.S. cargo planes arrived at Shamsi air base to take equipment and other gear used by U.S. personnel out of the country. The move comes after Pakistan told the U.S. last month to leave within 15 days following a drone strike that U.S. and Afghan officials say was ordered to protect troops being fired upon at the Afghan-Pakistan border.
The U.S. offered condolences for the loss, though it has not admitted guilt for a deliberate attack on Pakistani forces. On Sunday, President Obama called Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari to make "clear that this regrettable incident was not a deliberate attack on Pakistan." A statement from the White House said both leaders "reaffirmed their commitment" to the relationship and "agreed to stay in close touch."
Sources said Friday that the U.S. military asked the Pakistani military for permission to fire on two outposts on the border with Afghanistan.
According to three senior U.S. military sources who spoke to Fox News, a U.S. military patrol composed of about 20 special operators leading about 80 Afghan special operations forces came under fire on Nov. 26. Within the hour, the forces reached out to a Pakistani colonel at a joint border coordination center and asked if Pakistani military were located in the vicinity where the fire came from. They were told they were not and were given permission to engage, which resulted in three air strikes.
However, the strikes resulted in the Pakistani military engaging, which led to a battle that included two more air strikes. According to multiple sources, the two additional strikes were not targeting Pakistanis forces but what troops thought were insurgents.
One source added that the U.S. did what it was supposed to do -- coordinate with one of the three border coordination centers manned by Pakistani, U.S. and Afghan forces.
"The process worked," one source told Fox News. "They called the coordination center and gave the Pakistani contact specific coordinates and were told there was no Pakistani military in the vicinity."
Shamsi is used as part of the CIA Predator drone program, and officially the U.S. military is not there. Predator drones were allowed to land at Shamsi when they couldn't make it back to Afghanistan but the U.S. has reduced its dependency on the site since tensions with Pakistan began to rise a year ago.
According to English-language Samaa TV in Pakistan, all roads to the air base have been sealed and Pakistani security troops deployed near the base were put on high alert as the U.S. began its departure.
After the incident, the U.S. was told to vacate Shamsi by Dec. 11. Islamabad also pulled out of a Dec. 5 conference in Bonn, Germany, on the future of Afghanistan and stopped convoys from sending supplies to U.S. military in Afghanistan from Pakistan.