U.S. vacating air base in Pakistan after troop deaths
US Ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter
December 5th, 2011
06:04 PM ET

U.S. vacating air base in Pakistan after troop deaths

By CNN's Tom Watkins

The United States is vacating an air base in Pakistan at Islamabad's request following a NATO attack that killed two dozen Pakistani soldiers.

U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter told Pakistan's Waqt TV on Monday that the United States is leaving Shamsi Air Base in Balochistan Province southwest of Quetta. U.S. drones have taken off from the base and refueled there for operations against Islamic militants, according to sources familiar with U.S. drone operations in Pakistan.

The order to clear out of the base comes in the aftermath of a November 26 incident in which a NATO airstrike killed 24 Pakistani troops.

According to two U.S. officials familiar with an initial assessment of the incident, U.S. commandos were working alongside Afghan troops when they came under fire. The troops did not tell Pakistani authorities about the mission ahead of time because they had thought it would take place entirely within Afghanistan, the officials said.

U.S. and Pakistani officials said Friday there were conversations between the sides before the strike, but they differed on the content of those conversations. A Pakistani military spokesman said the attack hit the wrong target.

A probe, headed by U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Stephen Clark, is under way.

The loss of the base is unlikely to have any major impact on operations in Pakistan, experts said. A U.S. official said Sunday that the "loss of access to this base would not lessen capabilities, as it has served primarily as a back-up capability for quite a while now."

The United States flies drones out of Kandahar in nearby Afghanistan, so the impact should not be enormous, said CNN National Security Analyst Peter Bergen.

Still, there would be an impact, said Anthony Cordesman, who holds the Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "You're talking potentially 40 to 60 minutes' added reaction time," he said.

But the issue is broader than simply closing an airbase, Cordesman said.

"It's what Pakistan intends to do about its airspace," he said. "If it's saying, in addition to the base closing, that it will no longer cooperate to allow the United States to use Pakistani airspace and there will be no cooperation on targeting and no quid pro quo where we would use systems to hit at insurgents or extremists which were threats to Pakistan as well as Afghanistan, then it goes much further," he said.

"It also basically means that, if you're going to do this, you're clearly violating Pakistani airspace and, if you're going to do it, you may have to rely much more on stealth."

International law is clear, he noted. "You can't, in theory, send an intelligence aircraft over somebody's airspace. Period. The fact that people do it all the time doesn't make it legal. If you go beyond that, and the vehicle or airplane shoots something, that's an act of war."

Former CIA covert operations officer Mike Baker said that, from a logistical point of view, closing the airbase is "irritating, inconvenient, concerning." But, he added, "It won't impact our ability to strike at a target."

Baker, who is president of Diligence LLC, a global intelligence and security firm, described the base closure as "one more step down this dysfunctional road with the Pakistanis," but predicted that "cooperation between CIA and other intelligence portions of our military and the Pakistanis" will continue.

"Regardless of what happens in the headlines, there is an operational level of activity that continues to move forward because, ultimately, it is in the Pakistanis' best interest to continue to try to counter some of the extremists' activity."

High-level Pakistani officials have supported, quietly, the U.S. drone campaign for years, he said. "They've been playing the same game that any other nation will play - they want a little bit of plausible deniability."

In other words, when public opinion turns against the drone attacks, the officials will turn against them, too, Baker said. "Once they feel threatened from their own population because of their support and cooperation from the United States, that's when they'll turn on us," he said.

"Will they decide a drone strike in Pakistani airspace without permission is an act of war? Doubtful."

U.S. officials have long prepared for Plan B in Pakistan, he said. "If you have facilities in any country where you have a somewhat occasional volatile relationship, you're always looking for alternatives," he said.

The issue of U.S. and other NATO forces entering Pakistan has been a sensitive topic in that country since May, when U.S. commandos killed al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad without Pakistani leaders' consent.

NATO has called last month's casualties "tragic." U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta called the incident a "tragedy" and offered condolences. President Barack Obama called Pakistan's president Sunday to express condolences over the airstrike. He said the incident was not a deliberate attack on Pakistan, the White House said.

The incident exacerbated already strained relations with Pakistan.

"Such attacks ... demonstrate complete disregard for international law and human life," Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar said the day after the attack.

Khar asked the United States to vacate the Shamsi Air Base within 15 days.

The U.S. Embassy in Pakistan confirmed Monday that Munter said the United States is complying with the request.

On Monday, Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani said Pakistan wants to have good relations with the United States based on mutual respect and clearly defined parameters. "I think that is doable," he told state-run Associated Press of Pakistan. "I think that it won't take long."

He said that new ties being negotiated with the United States would ensure that the two countries "respected each other's red lines" regarding sovereignty and rules of engagement along the border. "I think we have evolved some mechanisms, and we are ready to cooperate" on peace efforts in Afghanistan, he said.

In Washington, deputy State Department spokesman Mike Toner, referring to the cross-border incident in which two dozen Pakistani soldiers were killed, said he welcomed Gilani's remarks.

"From the very moments after this tragedy, we've been clear that this relationship is vital to U.S. national security interests, it is vital to Pakistan's national security interests, it is vital to the region's interests that we work together productively. And we are committed to addressing the issues between us and moving forward," he told reporters.

CNN's Pam Benson, Nasir Habib, Nick Paton Walsh and Barbara Starr and journalist Shaan Khan contributed to this report.

Filed under: CIA • drones • Intelligence • Pakistan • Terrorism
soundoff (43 Responses)
  1. Shantelle Skinsacos

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    January 12, 2021 at 1:59 am | Reply
  3. AGeek

    Stop sending money to Pakistan and stop giving them other aid. See how fast they change their tune. They've already demonstrated they're wiling to harbor terrorists and protect them with state resources. #($*& them. With a spiked bat. Twice.

    January 4, 2012 at 7:36 am | Reply
    • reality

      No body needs your money, Its America who needs Pakistan . They are just asking for the cost of services they provide.

      January 4, 2012 at 2:06 pm | Reply
  4. Wsabi

    So WHY are we still friends with Pakistan? It is obvious to most that they were implicit in their dealings with Bin Laden. Their actions after we got him speak volumes to what their intentions are.

    So why are we not ripping these guys a new a**hole right now?

    December 8, 2011 at 7:18 pm | Reply
    • reality

      Propaganda won't do any thing against Pakistan, They have nukes for annihilating any aggression.

      January 4, 2012 at 2:07 pm | Reply
  5. Rav

    You know you a pakistani when 1. You own $ 300 machine gun & a $5000 rocket launcher but run around barefoot. 2 You have more wives than teeth. 3 You think vests come in two styles: bullet-proof & suicide. 4 You can't think of anyone u haven't declared Jihad on. 5 You consider TV dangerous but routinely carry ammunition in your underwear . 6 You are amazed to discover that mobile phones have uses other than setting off road-side bombs. 7 You refine cocaine for a living but have a moral objection to drinking beer

    December 6, 2011 at 3:03 pm | Reply
  6. Baloch Khan

    US should help the Baloch freedom fighters who are fighting Pakistan and Iran for their independence and in return Baloch will give them the Shamsi airbase as well as permanent military bases in Balochistan, so the US to kick the asses of Paki and Iranian terrorists and extremist. US does not need to waste its time and its taxpayer's money on Pakistan and to be blackmailed or stabbed in the back by Pakistan. Pakistan is a terrorist state and it harbors terrorism. Let's declare Pakistan as such and stop all funding to this terrorist state. Time to take the war on terror to Pakistan. Pakistan is the TERROR. Let's finish this TERROR structure once and for all so everyone can live in peace.

    December 6, 2011 at 1:33 pm | Reply
    • reality

      Than America will be terrorist supporter.

      January 4, 2012 at 2:08 pm | Reply
  7. Steve

    So in short, they want more money. Forget Pakistan. India will surely let us use their border. Perhaps Pakistan would learn not to bite the hand that feeds them if we build up some fortifications on India's side of the border.

    December 6, 2011 at 1:24 pm | Reply
    • reality

      No body is stopping you, Go ask India if they can provide the access to their bases.

      January 4, 2012 at 2:09 pm | Reply
  8. Cassandra Chu

    ... One has to ask why we Americans are even there in the first place. We really have little to gain and it's very expensive. This is overstepping foreign policy that should be reigned in. In Iraq the reason is OIL. In Afghanistan the reason is OPIUM.

    December 6, 2011 at 8:39 am | Reply
    • Dimple

      Definitely imagine that which you sttead. Your favourite justification seemed to be on the net the easiest factor to remember of. I say to you, I definitely get annoyed while other folks think about concerns that they just do not know about. You controlled to hit the nail upon the top and also defined out the whole thing without having side-effects , other folks could take a signal. Will likely be again to get more. Thank you!

      July 1, 2012 at 4:41 am | Reply
  9. Cassandra Chu


    December 6, 2011 at 8:33 am | Reply
  10. HASSAN


    December 6, 2011 at 6:49 am | Reply
    • 20th Stryker Soldier

      We will not. When our CO gives the order, we are going to come in and skull fuck You with 5.56 mm NATO rounds. My M4 is "dying" to meet You. Even Obama sees You for the terrorists You are. Hate our way of life ? Why ? Because we have hot women and beer and hotdogs ? Then You and all You hippocritic ragheads fucking die. I had a Muslim room mate that claimed to be "pure" by Allah only to learn he was fucking cocktail waitresses two at a time. And then You want to kill us ? Fuck You ! We will kill You first.

      December 6, 2011 at 7:33 am | Reply
      • Security Forces Airman


        December 6, 2011 at 1:19 pm |
      • USGOV

        Just like when seal team six was skull fucked and shot down. I heard it was so bad they had to bring in sponges to gather the remains of the bodies of the pussies. This is exactly the reason 9.11 happened when gay Stryker above thinks it's ok for a dumbass to go occupy foreign lands without repercussions. I hope some raghead ieds you and your entire unit

        December 7, 2011 at 3:05 am |
    • Cassandra Chu

      ... A lot of us Americans don't want for us to be there either. It's the CIA and the Zionist-Controlled politicians that cause the problems.

      December 6, 2011 at 8:34 am | Reply
    • DPatriot

      Dont worry , we are ... Only to bomb you smelly dogs back to the stone age ... which was only 2 years ago for you lol . Go beat your women and rape your children some more you sick pigs

      December 6, 2011 at 8:43 am | Reply
    • Rob

      We dont want your land it is a desolate wasteland and are country is beautiful. We had to go to your land to stop some of your people from killing our people when all we want is peace. When the job is done will leave you to your tribal, masacast, backwards ways forever.

      December 6, 2011 at 10:17 am | Reply
    • Natedontknowjack

      Don't feed the trolls people.

      December 6, 2011 at 1:22 pm | Reply
    • reality

      Don't worry Americans can't sustain the cost of war forever, They know the end of Soviets because of Afghan war.

      January 4, 2012 at 2:11 pm | Reply
  11. ban the koran

    It's long past the time when America needs to recognize that Islam is not a relegion and is not peaceful. It is a violent sociopathic ideaology, far worse then nazism, with identical stated goals of world domination and genocide. It is a threat to the entire planet nad all its inhabitants. Its practice should be allowed, its followers should they choose to continue to follow it, should be executed.

    December 6, 2011 at 4:54 am | Reply
    • DPatriot

      Amen brother

      December 6, 2011 at 8:43 am | Reply
    • crymore

      Ignorant, party of two, your table is ready.

      December 6, 2011 at 1:23 pm | Reply
      • USGOV

        Lmao great. These two buffoons have probably never met any Muslim. They are so wrapped up on what fox news tells them that they don't know that their local hospital probably employs a lot of Muslims. I bet they have never even been to a mosque to see what they actually talk about

        December 7, 2011 at 3:16 am |
    • Zee

      Good News for you, Islam is the fastest growing religon in America. Do whatever you want to but don't forget "When truth is hurled against falsehood, falsehood perishes, for falsehood by its nature is bound to perish"

      December 6, 2011 at 8:12 pm | Reply
    • reality

      We should realize that Nazis from Europe should never be appeased, most middle east dictators are slaves of Nazis, they must be kicked out of power.

      January 4, 2012 at 2:12 pm | Reply
  12. Hari

    If past experience is anything to go by, funds provided to Pakistan eventually will find its way to furthering interests of Muslim fundamentalism as evidenced by the investiagtions and assessments made as part of the war on terror. Terror seems the chosen path of the Muslim fundamentalists to build an identity and to threaten innocent people to surrender to their ideologies.

    The good or bad thing is that teh use of funds is the same whether it is from USA, China or any other sources (including from Saudi or other private Muslim donors). The only difference is that for China, unlike western countries concerned with humanity and human rights, it makes no difference if the funding is in the form of nuclear technology or military capabilities.. In fact China believes that teh larger a nuisance and threat Pakistan is for the rest of the world, the better it serves China's interest – A thorn in the flesh of USA, EU, India.. are all equally welcome and leave China enough breatning space. Of course China knows and doesnt care a bit that Pakistan is digging its grave and could potentillay cause unlimited human catastrophe. What China doesnt know is that it is not immune to the disaster and the tragedy that it forever is giving up its respect as an honorbale soceity by using Pakistan to project terrorism. May be down the timeline when the military dictors posing as peoples' leader in China gets exposed and the Chines people see teh truth, there may be some change. Until such time, unfortunately it is Pakistan's neighbours and western nations that offer the resistence to a fanatical nation trying to take humanity down the grave ....

    Ironically, the result of current belligenrant behavious of Pakistan could be its downfall.... A positive outcome in Afghanistan through sutained development there and direct foreign influence from responsible nations could eventuallu call Pakistan's bluff and leave them as the untouchables in the world !!!

    December 6, 2011 at 2:27 am | Reply
    • reality

      IIf money is not there than there won't be any fight against terrorism, The oil money from Saudi Arabia will continue to brainwash the 10 million refugees from Afghanistan, ultimately Pakistan will have to kick back those refugees to Afghanistan.

      January 4, 2012 at 2:15 pm | Reply
  13. 20th Stryker Soldier

    We need to just go in and fucking kill em all.

    December 5, 2011 at 8:25 pm | Reply
    • DPatriot

      Best response I've heard all morning.

      December 6, 2011 at 8:45 am | Reply
    • reality

      You will get nuked before you kill any body.

      January 4, 2012 at 2:16 pm | Reply
  14. Raymond Babcock

    pakistan is harboring terroist we should cut them of along with palistinans why should we pay there security forces when they are killing israels let iran pay there salaries

    December 5, 2011 at 7:07 pm | Reply
    • reality

      You pay for the access to supply route for your military, you pay for military base use.

      January 4, 2012 at 2:18 pm | Reply

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