US vacates airbase; FC in control
By: Saleem Shahid
QUETTA: The United States completed evacuation of the Shamsi airbase on Sunday when two aircraft took off with the last contingent of 32 troops.
Frontier Corps personnel took over the airbase after departure of the American soldiers.
“Shamsi airbase is now under the command of Pakistani forces,” a security official told Dawn , adding that US forces had left virtually nothing there.
They set all their redundant and useless equipment on fire before abandoning the place at 3pm, he added.
Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani also confirmed the evacuation. “Shamsi airbase has been evacuated by the United States and now it is under the control of Pakistani forces,” he said.
The government had asked the United States to vacate the base by Dec 11 in furtherance of a decision taken by the Defence Committee of the Cabinet after the Nato attack on Pakistani military posts in Mohmand Agency on Nov 26.
According to official sources, a ceremony was conducted at the airbase in which the Stars and Stripes (the US flag) was lowered for the last time.
“After the flag lowering ceremony, the last contingent of US troops boarded the plane along with their belongings,” the sources said. The US troops also took three vehicles along with them on the last flight.
After removal of the flag, the Frontier Corps took charge of the airbase and hoisted the national flag there.
US troops had started vacating the base last week, removing all sensitive equipment and the control system used for drone attacks in the first phase.
“Twenty cargo planes were used to transport the equipment,” the sources said. A radar system had also been installed on nearby mountains under tight security.
Security was further tightened in the vicinity after evacuation of the base.
Some officials of the Civil Aviation Authority were present when the Frontier Corps took charge.
Agencies add: Shamsi was leased by the Pakistani government to Abu Dhabi in 1992 for hunting purposes. Abu Dhabi leased it to the United States after the attacks on Sept 11, 2001.
The base was widely believed to have been used in covert CIA drone attacks against the Taliban and Al Qaeda leaders in Pakistan’s tribal areas.
US officials and intelligence analysts have said the covert drone war would not be affected by the closure of the Shamsi airbase as Washington could fly Predator and Reaper drones out of airfields in Afghanistan.
But the Shamsi base was supposed to be particularly useful for flights hampered by poor weather conditions.
Nearly half of all cargo bound for Nato-led forces runs through Pakistan.
Roughly 140,000 foreign troops, including about 97,000 Americans, rely on supplies from outside Afghanistan for the war effort.