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Posted by on Dec 11, 2011 in At TMV, International | 9 comments

Pakistan Vows to Shoot Down U.S. Drones In Its Air Space

Souring U.S. Pakistan relations are now poised to get much worse: Pakistan is vowing to shoot down U.S. drones that it sees in its airspace:

Pakistan will shoot down any U.S. drone that intrudes its air space per new directives, a senior Pakistani official told NBC News on Saturday.

According to the new Pakistani defense policy, “Any object entering into our air space, including U.S. drones, will be treated as hostile and be shot down,” a senior Pakistani military official told NBC News.

The policy change comes just weeks after a deadly NATO attack on Pakistani military checkpoints accidentally killed 24 Pakistani soldiers, prompting Pakistani officials to order all U.S. personnel out of a remote airfield in Pakistan.

Pakistan told the U.S. to vacate Shamsi Air Base by December 11.

A senior military official from Quetta, Pakistan, confirmed to NBC News on Saturday that the evacuation of the base, used for staging classified drone flights directed against militants, “will be completed tomorrow,” according to NBC’s Fakhar ur Rehman.

Pakistan’s Frontier Corps security forces took control of the base Saturday evening after most U.S. military personnel left, Xinhua news agency reported. Civil aviation officials also moved in Saturday, Xinhua said.

Pakistani Military Chief Gen Ashfaq Pervez Kayani had issued multiple directives since the Nov. 26 NATO attack, which included orders to shoot down U.S. drones, senior military officials confirmed to NBC News on Saturday.

It was unclear Saturday whether orders to fire upon incoming U.S. drones was part of the initial orders.

Bloomberg provides some additional context for the NBC report:

The U.S. withdrew its last personnel from a Pakistani military base it used to launch Predator drone missions in response to a demand made after a NATO strike killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.

Already tense U.S.-Pakistan relations were further stretched by the Nov. 25 attack on Pakistani army posts along the border with Afghanistan. The U.S. and NATO have denied Pakistani assertions that the raid was deliberate and have begun an investigation into the killings in a region where Pakistani forces have been battling Taliban militants.

“The last flight carrying leftover U.S. personnel and equipment departed Shamsi Base today and the base has been completely vacated,” the Pakistani military said yesterday in an e-mailed statement. “The control of the base has been taken over by the Army.”

Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani’s government is reviewing the terms of its agreements with the U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar said in Dec. 8 in comments broadcast by television channels. The border incident triggered an angry backlash in Pakistan with protest rallies in major cities.

“The closure of Shamsi indicates that Pakistani generals this time want the U.S. to accommodate their demands and not weaken them in front of their soldiers and the public,” said Rashid Khan, a professor of international relations at the University of Sargodha in central Pakistan.

The U.S. and Pakistan have been trying to stabilize ties after a year that included the detention of a CIA contract employee for killing two Pakistanis, the unilateral American raid near Islamabad that that killed al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in May, and public accusations by top U.S. officials that Pakistan’s army is actively aiding militant groups.

If Pakistan shoots down a U.S. drone (regardless of any arguments pro and con), look for it to shove U.S. Pakistan relations down to a new, lower level — with Pakistan finding it extremely difficult to get what it wants in terms of aid from the U.S. Congress. Pakistan is a hair away from becoming a major political issue in the United States. It hasn’t happened yet since the U.S. needs Pakistan and the country has enjoyed strong ties with U.S. officialdoor many years. But if a drone is shot down, it’ll be the beginning of a new era.

Map via shutterstock.com