Pakistan has stopped the United States from using an air base in the southwest of the country to launch drone strikes against militant groups, according to a report by The Financial Times.
The newspaper quotes Pakistan’s Defense Minister Ahmed Mukhtar as saying that Pakistan had ended U.S. drone flights out of Shamsi base in the southwestern province of Baluchistan, long reported to have been used for the covert war against militants.
“No U.S. flights are taking place from Shamsi any longer. If there have to be flights from the base, it will only be Pakistani flights,” the newspaper reports Mukhtar as saying.
Pakistan has long publicly opposed the missile attacks as a violation of its sovereignty, but has in private given support including intelligence to help target members of al-Qaida and the Taliban in the northwest region along the Afghan border.
However, ties between the countries have been strained since the killing of two Pakistanis by a CIA agent in January, and after Navy SEALs killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden in a raid on May 1, 2011 that Pakistani officials said further breached its sovereignty.
Washington had been asked to remove all its infrastructure from the Shamsi air base, the Financial Times cited an unidentified Pakistan official as saying. The official, though, said, no drone flights had taken off from the base since 2009.
Since President Barack Obama took office, drone strikes have been stepped up, focused on the Waziristan region in northwest Pakistan, a hub for militants from around the world. These attacks have further intensified since bin Laden's killing which reinforced suspicion in the United States that elements of Pakistan’s security establishment may have helped hide him.
In April 2011, the United States announced plans to provide Pakistan with 85 small, unmanned “Raven” surveillance drones that Pakistan requested. In addition, Pakistan is expected to receive about $3 billion in U.S. military aid, but there is no word on if Pakistan’s decision to end U.S. drone flights out of Shamsi base will affect the U.S.’ decision to supply it with drone aircraft or military aid.