NATO airstrike: Obama calls Zardari, offers condolence


President Obama phoned the Pakistani president Sunday to offer "condolences" for the deaths of two dozen soldiers who were killed in NATO airstrikes along the Afghan border, the White House said.

The conversation, eight days after the incident, overcame the reservations of some officials in the Defence Department and favoured an approach suggested by diplomats who had urged a more conciliatory gesture. But the president's comments stopped short of a formal apology.

"Earlier today, the president placed a phone call to Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari to personally express his condolences on the tragic loss of 24 Pakistani soldiers this past week along the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan," the White House said.

"The president made clear that this regrettable incident was not a deliberate attack on Pakistan and reiterated US commitment to a full probe," the statement said.

The development came even as the US on Sunday started pulling out its nationals from Shamsi airbase, reportedly used to launch CIA-operated drones, on the orders of Pakistan government after the deadly NATO cross-border airstrike. An American aircraft arrived in Pakistan to fly out the US nationals. The US nationals boarded it amidst tight security, TV news channels reported. Officials from the Federal Investigation Agency were present at the airbase, the reports said.

Residents living around Shamsi airbase were told not to leave their homes while the US nationals were being taken to the aircraft. There was no official word on the development.

The Express Tribune quoted a US government source as saying that they had spent months preparing for a possible eviction from Shamsi by building up other drone launching capabilities.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton too called Pakistan Premier Yousuf Raza Gilani to offer her condolences on the killing of 24 troops but was unable to make him reconsider a decision to boycott a key meet on Afghanistan to be held in Bonn on Monday.

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