US Military Vacates Pakistani Air Base

Posted December 11th, 2011 at 9:20 pm (UTC-5)
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U.S. military vacated an air base in Pakistan's southwest Sunday, meeting a December 11 deadline set by Islamabad in response to NATO's November 26 air strike that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.

The Pakistani military said it took over the Shamsi base in Baluchistan province shortly after the last U.S. personnel departed.

The Pakistani government ordered the move as part of several punitive measures reflecting Pakistani anger about the deadly incident. Islamabad also closed its border crossings to trucks delivering supplies to NATO forces in land-locked Afghanistan and boycotted an international conference in Bonn on Afghanistan's future.

There was no immediate confirmation of the base withdrawal from U.S. officials.

Pakistan accused NATO forces of deliberately targeting Pakistani soldiers during an operation against militants on the border with Afghanistan. The U.S. military and NATO deny the charge and have launched investigations of the incident.

U.S. intelligence experts say the withdrawal from the Shamsi air base is not likely to have a major impact on the drone war in the border region because the U.S. military can fly the unmanned planes out of air fields in Afghanistan.

In another development, two prominent Pakistani Taliban members have denied claims by the group's deputy chief Maulvi Faqir Mohammad that the militants are engaged in peace talks with Islamabad.

Mohammad had announced Saturday that negotiations with the government were progressing well and could soon lead to an agreement. The Pakistani government has not confirmed any negotiations with the militants but officials have spoken of a need for dialogue.

The United States has long pressured Pakistan, a major U.S. aid recipient, to fight the Islamist militants who use bases in Pakistani tribal regions to attack U.S.-led NATO forces in Afghanistan.

Also Sunday, Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani denied reports that President Asif Ali Zardari suffered a stroke and offered to resign. Mr. Zardari flew to the United Arab Emirates Tuesday after falling ill. Medics say the president likely suffered a transient ischemic attack, which can produce stroke-like symptoms but no lasting damage to the brain.

Mr. Gilani said the president was making good progress and needs to rest for two more weeks before returning home.