Islamabad, Dec 10: Pakistani security forces today took control of a strategically important airbase in the country's southwest after US military personnel vacated the facility in line with a demand from the Pakistan government.
Pakistan had asked the US to vacate Shamsi airbase in Balochistan province after a cross-border NATO attack on two border posts killed 24 soldiers on November 26.
The US had been using the airbase since late 2001 for military operations in Afghanistan and drone strikes in Pakistan's tribal belt, according to American and Pakistani media reports.
Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani had said last week that the US had been asked to vacate the airbase by December 11. Troops from the Frontier Corps took control of the airbase late this evening after most of the US personnel left the airfield.
Only one US transport plane was parked at the airbase to transfer remaining personnel and equipment, Geo News channel quoted its sources as saying.
Officials of the Civil Aviation Authority too arrived at the airbase to take full control of it after the remaining American officials leave the facility.
Media reports yesterday said the US had shifted five drone aircraft from Shamsi airbase to Afghanistan. US personnel dismantled residential barracks which had been set up for the military personnel.
The United Arab Emirates had leased the airbase, located about 300 km from the Balochistan capital of Quetta, in 1992 for use by members of the country's royal family who travel to Pakistan every year for hunting expeditions. The UAE gave the US access to the airbase after the 9/11 terror attacks.
Shamsi airbase was originally built to operate small aircraft and the US extended the runway so that larger military aircraft could be based there.
Numerous reports by the Pakistani and American media have said that Shamsi was used by CIA-operated drones that carried out attacks on militants in Pakistan's restive tribal belt.