Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
July 02, 2011

So What Really Is the Operational Status of Shamsi?

There was a public exchange between U.S. and Pakistan officials over the last days with contradicting claims about the operation of and from the airbase Shamsi in Baluchistan province in south-west Pakistan. Later on, both agreed on a status picture. But is it the true one? terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Drone hangers at Shamsi - Google map

The dispute started with the Pakistani defense minister saying on Wednesday in the Financial Times that Pakistan ordered the base to be shut down and evacuated and that operations there were halted:

Pakistan is pushing the US to abandon an airbase in Balochistan that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has reportedly been using for years to undertake its drone campaign inside the country’s tribal areas, the defence minister said.

Defence Minister Ahmed Mukhtar’s statement confirming that the US had been told to leave the Shamsi airbase is the latest indication of the simmering tensions between the key war-on-terror allies.

Pakistani commentators lauded this step which made it difficult to change that position:

The announcement of Defence Minister Chaudhary Ahmad Mukhtar that the United States has been asked to vacate the Shamsi airbase in Balochistan has widely been hailed by people of Pakistan, who consider it belated but still timely move as part of the efforts to restore national honour and dignity.
...
Shamsi had become subject of a heated national debate and disgust with people considering it as a stigma for the country and therefore, the move of the Government to get it vacated is a welcome development.

But someone in the U.S. did not like the Pakistani claim and on Thursday directly rebutted it via Reuters:

The United States is rejecting demands from Pakistani officials that American personnel abandon a military base used by the CIA to stage drone strikes against suspected militants, U.S. officials told Reuters.

U.S. personnel have not left the remote Pakistani military installation known as Shamsi Air Base and there is no plan for them to do so, said a U.S. official familiar with the matter, who asked for anonymity to discuss sensitive material.

"That base is neither vacated nor being vacated," the official said. The information was confirmed by a second U.S. official.
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"They are vacating it," the [senior Pakistani military] official insisted. "Shamsi base was for logistic purpose. They also used it for drones for some time but no drones have been flown from there."

The official said no base in Pakistan was presently used by the Americans for drone operations. But he did not give a precise date for when drones supposedly stopped operating from Shamsi.

The U.S. officials disputed that account.

So what is it? It seems that there are at least two direct contradictions here. First the claim that the base is no longer used for drone strikes which the U.S. official refuted and second the claim that the base in being in the process of shutting down which the U.S. also disputes. Reuters didn't err here as a McClatchy piece on Thursday confirmed its take:

The same day, Pakistani Defense Minister Ahmed Mukhtar was quoted as saying that Pakistan had ended CIA drone flights from Shamsi airfield in Baluchistan province. A senior U.S. official disputed that statement, saying, "That's news to the United States," and suggesting that Mukhtar was trying to assuage anti-American sentiment and deflect public anger over the bin Laden operation.
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If the Pakistanis order the CIA to vacate Shamsi, "it would be a significant step and the wrong signal," the senior U.S. official said.

But in a Washington Post piece on Saturday U.S. officials suddenly confirmed the Pakistani version:

The CIA three months ago suspended its long-standing use of an air base in Pakistan as a launch site for armed drones targeting members of al-Qaeda and other militant groups, according to U.S. and Pakistani officials.
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U.S. personnel and Predator drones remain at the facility, in the southwestern province of Baluchistan, with security provided by the Pakistani military, officials from both countries said.
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U.S. and Pakistani officials said the aircraft launches were halted in April, weeks before the bin Laden raid, after a dispute over a CIA contractor who fatally shot two Pakistani citizens in Lahore in January.
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In the weeks immediately after Pakistan’s grudging release in March of the CIA contractor involved in the Lahore shooting, top Pakistani military and intelligence officials made “a formal, personal request . . . a demand . . . more than once” to their U.S. counterparts to end the flights and leave Pakistan, a senior Pakistani defense official said.

In response, the official said, “there has been some thinning out at the base, and the drone missions suspended.”

I see two possible explanations for the contradicting claims here:

A. The Pakistani account is right and the U.S. rebuttal delivered on Thursday was wrong or misinformed or an attempt to put further pressure on the Pakistani leadership. Then, after a higher decision in the U.S., it was taken back in the Saturday story.

B. The Pakistani account was wrong but after the Pakistani Defense Minister had publicly made it was too hard to walk back. Between Thursday and Friday the U.S. and Pakistan agreed to the Pakistan version as a new cover story for continued operation of and from that base.

I have no idea which explanation is the correct one. What is the real operational status of Shamsi airbase? What is your take?

Posted by b on July 2, 2011 at 17:00 UTC | Permalink

Comments

Re the below, by his own logic shouldn't this "senior U.S. official" STFU?

"The same day, Pakistani Defense Minister Ahmed Mukhtar was quoted as saying that Pakistan had ended CIA drone flights from Shamsi airfield in Baluchistan province. A senior U.S. official disputed that statement, saying, "That's news to the United States," and suggesting that Mukhtar was trying to assuage anti-American sentiment and deflect public anger over the bin Laden operation."

Posted by: Tosk59 | Jul 2 2011 17:30 utc | 1

An interesting twist in this murky tale has not been included in the above account. On Friday Pakistan's Minister of Information denied that the government had asked the US to vacate Shamsi. About the Defence Minister's Wednesday statement that it had, she said: “It’s just a statement for the media.”

I believe the version in the WaPo Saturday article is the correct one. The drones are now being launched from bases in Afghanistan.

Posted by: FB Ali | Jul 2 2011 22:25 utc | 2

the question is, how did it happen that the defense minister issued an order (to shut down and evacuate the base) that couldn't be enforced?

the only sensible answer I can think of (also assuming FB Ali is right) is that his was a preventive barrage against a planned resuming of drone strikes from that base

but then, the question becomes: for "Pakistani sensibilities", what difference does it make if drones take off from Afghanistan, if they bomb Pakistan anyway?

Posted by: claudio | Jul 2 2011 23:33 utc | 3

Claudio,

I'm afraid you aren't aware of how things are in Pakistan. The Defence Minister has no power to issue "orders" to anyone. He is just a politician trying to get his name in the media.

The orders are issued by the army chief, and he prevailed upon the US to stop drone operations from Shamsi in April. Mainly to placate anti-US feelings in the military. It enabled the generals to deny that they were permitting the US to bomb Pakistani territory using Shamsi. And that they had no control over what the US did from Afghanistan.

Posted by: FB Ali | Jul 3 2011 0:43 utc | 4

I would have thought the answer obvious, both are politicians, therefore both are telling the truth and lying.
This is a fragment of a larger picture amerika in its USukNato form has lost the invasion of Afghanistan and is now looking for a way to retreat without being accused of retreating. "No More Vietnams!" and all that claptrap.
The fig leaf of permanent or rather 'enduring' bases will be the shelter for Oblamblam to cower behind when the loonie imperialist indoctrinated amerikans accuse him of surrender.
LOL amerika hasn't surrendered they have had their asses kicked out of 'AfPak' and inevitably the whole of central Asia. Like the sex workers just south of Pakistan used to say "no money, no honey" the amerikan cupboard is bare so they are being shown the door.
Anyway back to the bases. They will be gone in a WTC minute when the combination of insufficient amerikan mercenaries and and a disinterested Afghan defence force renders them indefensible/indefensible.
As far as the seeming divergence in 'pol talk' goes, this should be seen for what it is - 'teething bugs' that will be sorted.

The Pakistani pols have to let their population know that amerika won't be indiscriminately slaughtering brothers and sisters from Pakistani soil any more.

Meanwhile the amerikan pols don't wanna tell their mug punters who have been paying for the slaughter by way of hopelessly threadbare health and education services 'back home in Indiana' or where ever, that they have lost. The fiction of victory over human will by way of insanely expensive and stupidly conceptualised technology, must be maintained at all cost. This last bit sounds like more amerikan cruelty and insanity when considered objectively but for Washington pols who understand perception is reality, winning a conflict is not nearly as important as being considered to have won it. Even while the septic tank murderers & rapists are cowering in their bunkers, the pols are squeezing more revenue by cutting the services any morally responsible govt would be provide to its citizens. The blood squeezed outta the stone, is then handed over to the pols' bosses in the fortune 500; by way of the old 'defence contracting scam'.

If it is true that the bases are 'mothballed' 'being run down' or 'in a termination phase' (insert cliche de jour), why are the septic tanks still manning up the Shamsi base? Well that is equally sad and simple.

The Zadari creep along with his scummy, lying and amoral litter of Bhutto fleas, is scared shitless. Zadari knows his citizen-subjects are really pissed about a long series of 'accommodations' he reached with his septic tank masters. These culminated in the release of the killer Raymond Davis and Zadari's inability/refusal to come to the rescue of Afia Siddiqui, much less have the murderers of her infant son brought to justice.
These issues may have blown over for the moment, but many Pakistanis especially those outside the protected technocrat minority, now see Zadari and his fellow quislings as even more morally bankrupt than the amerikans whose orders they followed. One more straw may be enough to persuade ordinary Pakistanis to cast aside the silly divisions their ruling elite has manipulated to keep them under, and seek a bloody retribution. This would be a "Spring" which would be far more difficult to control in Pakistan than in the Arab states who have considerably more regimented and homogeneous 'internal security apparatus' at their elite's disposal.
As the Raymond Davis saga has revealed the combination of distinct federal and state security services and a population whose faith in the ethics, efficacy and ability of the ruling elite has penetrated far enough up the echelons of the security services structures to cause local commanders to resist orders from the center, means the ruling elite cannot guarantee the unquestioning loyalty of those services designed to keep them in power.

So for the foreseeable future or until the amerikan withdrawal become apparent enough to yield a political dividend for whatever particular combination of Pakistan's corrupt elite holds power at that time, sufficient seppos to murder sufficient of the citizens to continue oppression, will be retained by that elite.
I don't think they will pull it off. maybe its wishful, but the heart of the problem is always going to be that it is the very forces that enable the crooked clans to maintain control, that the Pakistani public finds most objectionable. Like a particularly twisted chicken & egg vicious circle, Pakistan's pols only feel secure when the issue that the Pakistani public objects to most is in place.

Every time the elites feel threatened they will be tempted to make further concessions to their amerikan bosses and that will cause more threats towards them.
Such an arrangement is inherently unstable and will inevitably collapse. Meanwhile the Pakistani people will come to realise that time is on their side. That there will come a time when amerika simply doesn't have the resources to prevent 'a possibility' whilst competing situations in Africa and the ME which require immediate resourcing to 'keep the amerikan way of life sacrosanct' have a need for those resources.

Posted by: Debs is Dead | Jul 3 2011 1:24 utc | 5

i think the 'trust deficit' statement in the express tribune are amusing

The reaction by the Pakistani military appeared to be indicating that both countries were facing a severe trust deficit in terms of who should spearhead a so-called reconciliation process in Afghanistan.

Mukhtar also admitted that the level of trust deficit was the highest in 10 years, but suggested it could be reduced through constant engagement.

“This trust deficit could be reduced by sitting together and taking joint actions,” he told the media.

On Tuesday, US vice admiral William McRaven, who oversaw the Bin Laden raid, said the US military believes that Taliban supreme leader Mullah Omar is in Pakistan and had asked the Pakistani army to locate him.

Asked about Omar, Mukhtar said: “Even if he was in Pakistan, he would have left the country after the Abbottabad incident.”

notice the tit for tat, posturing.

Posted by: annie | Jul 3 2011 1:34 utc | 6

from mcClatchy

Peter Bergen, an al Qaida expert who oversees the New America Foundation's drone attack database, said approximately 2 percent of drone strike victims — estimated between 1,557 and 2,464 people — have been noncombatants.

Read more: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2011/06/30/116820/drone-strikes-show-pakistan-still.html#ixzz1R0EP0tDJ


i do not believe that. if the drone attacks have killed between 75,000 to 100,000 people i am certain there were more civilian casualties than 2%. this isn't logical.

Posted by: annie | Jul 3 2011 1:52 utc | 7

@annie - Bergen's number is certainly wrong. The News and Dawn(?) in Pakistan did separate investigation based on local news accounts and came up with some 50% civilians. I planed to look into that somewhat later.

Posted by: b | Jul 3 2011 5:06 utc | 8

thanks b. i thought it sounded absurd.what do you think of the total number of casualties from the drone attacks. notice how he never says 75,000 to 100,000 people. but if he posits 2% of the deaths are 1,557 and 2,464 people then that's what it amounts to.

Posted by: annie | Jul 3 2011 16:30 utc | 9

b, the search function here is not working for me and directs me to google telling me it's not working, instead of our archives. do you know what's up w/that?

Posted by: annie | Jul 3 2011 16:34 utc | 10

@annie - google search - will look into it tomorrow (family business right now)

Posted by: b | Jul 3 2011 18:21 utc | 11

One can only hope, that whatever the truth is, the end game should be the utter defeat and departure of the U.S. troops in both Iraq and Afghanistan. These wars of resources and hegemony are immoral & illegal, and need to end. Every nation has the right of self-defence, and these wars, although marketed as such, don't pass that test. Ditto Libya.

Posted by: ben | Jul 3 2011 18:24 utc | 12

OT:
What do you think has been promised to Turkey and the AKP, for their sudden change of direction we see in Syria, Libya and their stance towards Gaza? Do you think it is untold riches, or was it rendering Greece as a basket case. Something has happened anybody care to shed any light on this?

Posted by: hans | Jul 4 2011 10:50 utc | 13

French support for joining the EU?

Posted by: dh | Jul 4 2011 16:07 utc | 14

@hans - yes, same perplexities; hope someone helps us understand

Posted by: claudio | Jul 4 2011 16:08 utc | 15

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