Pakistan closes US Predator base in Baluchistan: report


Google Earth images of Predators on the tarmac at the Shamsi Air Base in Baluchistan province, Afghanistan. Image from Wikipedia.

As the US-Pakistani military and intelligence relationship deteriorates over the use of Predators, the Raymond Davis affair, and Pakistan’s support of the Taliban, an unconfirmed report has emerged that the US airbase in Shamsi, Baluchistan, has been closed. CNN breaks the story:

U.S. military personnel have left a southern base in Pakistan said to be a key hub for American drone operations in the country’s northwestern tribal areas, a senior Pakistani intelligence official told CNN on Friday.

Drones are said to take off and get refueled for operations against Islamic militants from the Shamsi Air Base in Pakistan’s Balochistan province.

Another senior Pakistani intelligence official, who did not want to be identified discussing a sensitive issue, confirmed Americans had been using the base as a center of operations for launching drone strikes. He was not able to confirm if the Americans had left.

The first official said that American personnel were no longer operating out of the base, but he could not say whether they had left voluntarily or at the request of the Pakistani government.

The operation of the base — which the U.S. government has not publicly acknowledged — has always been presumed to have occurred with tacit Pakistani military consent.

It was not clear from the Pakistani officials when the presence there began or when it ended.

A U.S. military official who did not want to be identified told CNN: “There are no U.S. forces at Shamsi Air Base in Balochistan.” He did not respond at the time or in writing to queries as to whether U.S. personnel had been based there in the past.

The presence of US Predators at Shamsi has long been known. Images of the Predators on the runway at Shamsi were published back in 2009 [see image above]. The image, which was obtained from Google Earth, is no longer visible at Google Earth. The US also flies Predators from Jalalabad Airfield to carry out attacks against terrorist groups in Pakistan.

The C.I.A. has for several years operated Predator drones out of a remote base in Shamsi, Pakistan, but has secretly added a second site at an air base in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, several current and former government and company officials said. The existence of the Predator base in Jalalabad has not previously been reported. Officials said the C.I.A. now conducted most of its Predator missile and bomb strikes on targets in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region from the Jalalabad base, with drones landing or taking off almost hourly. The base in Pakistan is still in use. But officials said that the United States decided to open the Afghanistan operation in part because of the possibility that the Pakistani government, facing growing anti-American sentiment at home, might force the C.I.A. to close the one in Pakistan.

The war of words between the US and Pakistan has escalated. Pakistan is now flexing its muscles. The government has even approved shutting down ISAF’s supply lines into Afghanistan for two days beginning on April 23 to allow Imran Khan’s political party to stage a protest against the strikes.

The Predator program likely has peaked in its utility. Each strike now generates an enormous amount of negative publicity while further inflaming Pakistani actors. The political pressure from within Pakistan – from the military, national and provincial governments, the political parties, the general population, the media – is now too great for the US to conduct business as usual.

A major problem with the program from the very start has been the nod-and-wink nature of how the strikes are conducted. The US never required Pakistan to publicly support the strikes and make the case to the Pakistani public as to why they were needed. Instead, the US was content with Pakistani officials’ mildly protesting the strikes in public while the the very same officials quietly supported the program (just as long as the “bad Taliban” and not the “good Taliban” were killed, that is). But after the Davis affair, every strike has come with a firestorm of disapproval from Pakistani officials.


Now CNN is reporting that US officials said that US personnel are still at Shamsi:

However, a separate U.S. official, speaking in the United States, said drone operations had not stopped at the Shamsi base. “It’s news to us, and we would know.” The official added that “even if Pakistan did this, American anti-terrorism operations would continue.”

Clear as mud.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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  • Jamal Nasir Baloch says:

    USA can use Balochistan’s airbase ,but they are blind to see the ongoing human right violation by Pakistani state in occupied Balochistan . I appeal with American newspapers please rise the voice of justice and humanity. More than 1000 Baloch are missing including 150 women ,who have abducted by Pakistan. Now we are receiving the decomposed bodies of Baloch missing persons . Independent Balochistan is the only solution to stop terrorism

  • JRP says:

    That the drone program has peaked in its utility has been obvious for a while already. So now what do we do? We are in a stalemate of our own creation, because we never committed to actually winning this war against Al Qaeda after 9/11. On 9/12 had we obtained a formal declaration of war from Congress and drafted an Army and committed to going into Pakistan, if necessary to hunt down and kill Osama Bin Ladin, this war would have been over long ago. The present stalemate with Pakistan and the Libyan intervention simply prove to our enemies that if you Nuke-up we’ll back off and if you Nuke-down, we’ll feel free to go after you. This half-committed approach we’ve taken to the War on Terror ever since 9/11 will simply lead to more, not less, nuclear proliferation. It is not too late. For our own well-being and protection against terrorists acquiring A-Bombs by Gift/Purchase/Theft, we’ve got to push forward into the Waziristans to flush out the Al Qaeda HVTs. Once Pakistan sees we are committed to winning, Pakistan won’t stand in our way.

  • Charley says:

    Great analysis, JRP. Looks like things are coming to a head. We have lost 10 years and thousands of troops, and untold billions in this half hearted effort.
    Yes, we need to come up with a solution to nuclear blackmail by these terrorist countries (Pakistan and North Korea). If that involves drastic measures, so be it.

  • Charley says:

    Great analysis, JRP. Looks like things are coming to a head. We have lost 10 years and thousands of troops, and untold billions in this half hearted effort.
    Yes, we need to come up with a solution to nuclear blackmail by these terrorist countries (Pakistan and North Korea). If that involves drastic measures, so be it.

  • the Australian says:

    Mr JAMAL NASIR BALOCH, why you guys always complain that Balochistan is occupied by Pakistan. Balochistan was part of Pakistan right from the beggining. since pakistan’s birth. stop spreading negative propaganda. From chaman to quetta to pishin was never been part of balochistan, it was part of Afghanistan. you should complain to your SARDARS and NAWABS who opress you for long time. your sardars all buying and driving FERRARIS and LIMBOGINI cars and have billions of dollars in foreighn banks and yet you complain to pakistan. ask your sardars where is the funding money from islamabad. they tell you by killing you. and more, when your BLA men target killing others its OK. but when you find thier body then you say its not OK. its a simple rule in the world BLOOD FOR BLOOD my friend. think positive, you have problem with your sardars not with pakistan.

  • Karim Baloch says:

    It would be nice if comments by punjabis posing as ‘Australians’ were removed from the debate as they add but dirt to it (such as the comment above).
    The US doesnt need the failed state of pakistan in the long-term. The punjabis will still come with their begging-bowls long-after the war is over. It is only then will they see that they and their pakistan have been dropped into the dust-bin of history. Let the punjabis enjoy their illusion of victory for the time being. The day is not too far away when reality will slap them back in their face and knock them out cold.
    Once the US departs from Afghanistan and stops paying money into the begging bowl of pakistan, how are the punjabis going to deal with the fury and backlash of the Afghan and Baluch?

  • James says:

    I have said all along that we should have been with India from day one of this thing. Oh well, better late than never.
    The other day here in the US the politicians were debating the alleged 3 billion (I could’ve swore it was more) in aid to Pakistan.
    How many cruise missiles will one billion (one-third of that amount) get you? Answer: one thousand cruise missiles.
    Now, one thousand cruise missiles is a lot of cruise missiles to be possibly hammering Pakistan with.
    It’s high time (in fact, long overdue) for US and India by working together to start really “tightening the screws” on these Pakistanis.
    I have long advocated a combined intelligence capability between US and India that would work in unison and equanimity with India. This could be done (at least initially) “behind the scenes” and furtively to successfully counter the AQ/terrorist.
    I can only hope, both for our sake and India’s, that it’s being done, or, at the very least, seriously being considered by both US and India.

  • Soccer says:

    Of course that’s how it is. “Blood for blood”, a rule that still applies all over the world. We are quite a violent lot, us humans, don’t expect it to change.
    Independent Balochistan means we can launch our anti-terrorism operations from there, to use it as a base.

  • Spooky says:

    Pakistanis are nationalistic enough that they won’t be scared by America “showing that it is serious”. That the US expected much from Pakistan was folly, but to now try to engage in what would inevitably lead to a full scale war with Pakistan is an overestimation.
    It’s far better to simply go with special forces and pick them on their ability to blend in with the locals. Have them enter from somewhere away from FATA and have them go hunting.
    I say this because, even if y’all don’t care, the drones DO have a collateral damage rate to it, and relying on the Pakistanis is laughable and war is not something most Americans are prepared to deal with after 10 years of fighting elsewhere.
    So we should go the special forces route, enter in discretely with guys who DO NOT LOOK LIKE RAYMOND DAVIS and then take care of the HVTs. Problem solved.
    To the Baloch, I feel for you. You got Pakistan using you like they use everyone. Maybe the US could gain a friend and do something about it, but that actually requires imagination….

  • villiger says:

    I just watched the cost of the Afghan War go up by a million dollars. It took less than 3 minutes. That is just the cost to the US.
    Running at about a 100 billion US a year, +/- 10 billion, thats about 60% of the TOTAL GDP of Pakistan. And they know it. So they look at the less than handful of billions they get as a tip.
    Its another matter of what humanity would be if there were no wars, no armies, and no military spending. Yes, Soccer, we human beings are in fact a violent lot. It would be realistic to expect it not to change. So the fact that we (humanity, collectively) are stupid remains, for all the money spent and lives lost.

  • Ben Haraami says:

    closed? really?

  • JRP says:

    Spooky . . . I have to believe for a fact that Special Forces missions have been going on now in Pakistan for some time and with no results when it comes to the really big HVTs. I’m not saying necessarily that Pakistan will be scared by a tougher U.S. approach. I simply think that when push comes to shove, Pakistan will shout and scream, but ultimately do nothing militarily should we go into the Waziristans in strength. And as for Pakistan proper, if at the very least we took out ISI . . . I think secretly many in Pakistan would be very happy. Anyway, I sure hope you’re right about Special Forces being able to accomplish the HVT capture/kill mission, but I think that route won’t get it done and will risk many more POWs.

  • Infidel4LIFE says:

    Its time to draw down. This will turn into a counter-terror mission eventually. The Punjabi’s are the minority in this mosaic nation. I bet they fear Baloch and Pashtun nationalism more than anything.

  • indus says:

    Australian, KarimBaloch:
    Balochistan has always had a murky relationship with Pakistan. Balochistan, at least in part, was an autonomous region(s) within British India. And when the British left in 1947, parts of Balochistan acceded to Pakistan, others (for example, Kalat) resisted incorporation, resulting in mutiny/war of 1948, and several subsequent wars.
    The relationship has been murky because some Balochs have wanted to give Pakistan a chance, being co-religionists; others have always wanted independence. However, given the expropriation of their natural resources (primarily gas and oil) by Pakistan, with little benefit accruing to Baluchistan, a large proportion now want independence. They, however, lack any unified strategy, leadership or international support.
    There is a merit in us supporting their desire for independence and democratic institutions within, though probably not at the cost of direct conflict with nuclear Pakistan. Balochs on their part need to do lot more leg work to inculcate unity among disparate Khan-doms, raise their voice to aware the world of their grievience, as well as make their case for independence.

  • kp says:

    The main problem about nabbing or killing a very HVT (UBL or AZ or HM or Siraj Haqqanni) is intel on where they are. If we find out where they are and can get there in a couple of hours I have no problems imagining a SF+Ranger air assault on that location. The problem is getting that intel in a timely way.

    It’s been done before one well known
    and the other (mostly quietly) and apparently succeeded grabbing a HVT (not one of the big three) and recovering a Predator.

  • Civy says:

    We should pursue an independent Baluchistan, granting them autonomy from the failed state of Pakistan in return for a transportation/logistics corridor from Gwadar to the rail line that passes E-W through Dalbandin, and very close to Shamsi.
    Instead of propping up a failed state, carve it up, reduce it’s size and influence, and get Afghanistan out of a land-locked economy where transportation costs are too high to make exporting fruits, nuts, and vegetables to hungry buyers in India, China, and the Gulf States.

  • Don Vandervelde says:

    The key is an Indian-Afghan alliance. Indian troops chasing talibs into N. Waz. with the help and approval of local Afghans and US, would give ISI a nightmare to negotiate away, to our advantage.

  • Valentin says:

    Pakistan asked to stop the air raids 1000 times. They did it only now. Why? Drones were moved to Libia!


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