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US to continue drone operations from Shamsi airbase

06 July, 2011

US to continue drone operations from Shamsi airbase
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WASHINGTON: The United States plans to keep using an airstrip inside Pakistan for drone flights against militants near the Afghanistan border despite demands from some Pakistani officials that Washington vacate the base, three U.S. officials said.

The airstrip at Shamsi in Balochistan will continue to be used for some drone surveillance operations, while the CIA, which is principally responsible for the missions, is already using facilities in Afghanistan to launch some armed drone aircraft strikes on targets over the border in Pakistan.

"The facility remains fully operational and supports American counterterrorism operations in Pakistan," one of the officials told this news agency on Monday. But the official added: "If, for whatever reason, it was no longer available, there are certainly other ways to continue the program and to sustain the intense pressure it`s put on al Qaeda and its militant allies."

U.S. officials said CIA and Pakistani personnel remain stationed at the Shamsi facility. Keeping the base open for U.S. drone flights and maintaining Pakistani involvement in base operations is regarded in Washington as a means of ensuring that Islamabad retains a stake in the CIA`s use of the remotely controlled drones.

The two U.S. officials said the United States already has adequate infrastructure outside Pakistan -- principally in Afghanistan, though one official said ships could also be used-- to continue substantial drone operations against targets in Pakistan.

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