US leaves Shamsi base, ‘credibility gap’ says Pak

International

The Pakistan Army on Sunday took over Shamsi airbase in the country's southwest after it was vacated by US forces in line with a deadline set by the government following a cross-border NATO attack that killed two dozen Pakistani soldiers.

The last flight carrying US personnel and equipment had departed from Shamsi airbase in Baluchistan province and the facility had been "completely vacated" by the Americans, the Inter-Services Public Relations said. "The control of the base has been taken over by the (Pakistan) Army," it said.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani also told the media that the US has vacated the airbase within the time limit given to it. A US flag that was previously hoisted at the airbase was lowered Sunday, TV news channels reported.

Gilani said on Sunday that Pakistan may continue blocking NATO supply convoys into Afghanistan for several weeks and would not rule out closing its airspace to the US. He said there was a "credibility gap" between Pakistan and the US, and the two sides need to develop greater trust. He made the remarks during an interview with the BBC. Pakistan stopped NATO convoys and asked the US to vacate Shamsi airbase, reportedly used by CIA-operated drones, by December 11 to protest a NATO airstrike which killed 24 Pakistani soldiers last month. Asked if he believed NATO attacks had been deliberate, Gilani replied: "Apparently so".

Personnel from the Civil Aviation Authority and Frontier Corps had earlier moved into the Shamsi base to oversee the immigration procedures for the Americans and to provide security. The US personnel had removed radars and other sensitive equipment from the base.

Much of the gear and at least five drones were transferred to Afghanistan. Over 70 Americans were based at Shamsi, media reports said. The United Arab Emirates had taken on lease the airbase, located about 300 km from the Baluchistan capital of Quetta, in 1992 for use by members of the country's royal family. The UAE gave the US access to the facility after the 9/11 terror attacks. Sources said Pakistan will decide whether to hand over the airbase to the UAE after its vacation by the US.

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