Despite its very public withdrawal from Shamsi airfield at the weekend, the United States continues to have access to a number of military airfields inside Pakistan – including at least one from which armed drones are able to operate, the Bureau understands.
The first concrete indications have also emerged that the US has now effectively suspended its drone strikes in Pakistan. The Bureau’s own data registers no CIA strikes since November 17.
Islamabad is furious in the wake of a NATO attack which recently killed 24 Pakistani soldiers on its Afghan borders. As well as suspending NATO supply convoys through Pakistan, anti-aircraft missiles have also reportedly been moved to the border with Afghanistan.
Pakistan also demanded that the US withdraw from Shamsi, a major airfield in Balochistan controlled and run by the Americans since late 2001.
US Predator and Reaper drones have operated from the isolated airbase for many years. Technically the base is leased to Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, which allowed Pakistan to deny a US presence for many years. Now the US has quit Shamsi, with large US transporter planes stripping military hardware from the base.
But the US will continue to have access to at least five other Pakistani military facilities, according to a Pakistani source with extensive knowledge of US-Pakistani military and intelligence co-operation.
One of those bases is Shahbaz at Jacobabad, the first home of US surveillance drones in Pakistan. Armed CIA drones have operated there for some years, the source said. It is not yet clear whether, if the US resumes drone strikes, attacks will again be launched from Shahbaz.
During lethal heavy flooding in autumn 2010, Pakistan’s health minister Khusnood Lashari protested publicly that Pakistan could not use Jacobabad’s airport to deliver food aid. ‘Health relief operations are not possible in the flood-affected areas of Jacobabad because the airbase is with the United States,’ he told parliament.
The US denied at the time that it controlled Shahbaz. According to the Bureau’s source this is technically correct. The Pakistan Army provides an outer protective layer for the base. But around 50 American military personnel provide an inner security cordon for a US-only area.