|A Predator surveillance drone equipped with |
ISLAMABAD (AP) - Pakistan told the United States to leave a remote desert air base reportedly used as a hub for covert CIA drone attacks, Defence Minister Ahmed Mukhtar was quoted by state media as saying on Wednesday.
His remarks are the latest indication of Pakistan attempting to limit US activities since a clandestine American military raid killed Osama bin Laden on May 2. Islamabad also detained a CIA contractor wanted for murder in January.
"We have told them (US officials) to leave the air base," national news agency APP quoted Mukhtar as telling a group of journalists in his office.
Images said to be of US Predator drones at Shamsi base have been published by Google Earth in the past. The air strip is 900 kilometres (560 miles) southwest of the capital Islamabad in Baluchistan province.
A US embassy spokeswoman told AFP there were no US military personnel at Shamsi.
American drone attacks on Taliban and Al-Qaeda operatives in Pakistan's northwestern semi-autonomous tribal belt are hugely unpopular among a general public opposed to the government's alliance with Washington.
Despite condemning the drone strikes in public, US documents leaked by Internet whistleblower Wikileaks late last year showed that Pakistani civilian and militant leaders had privately consented to the drone campaign.
CNN reported in April that US military personnel had left the base, said to be a key site for American drone operations, in the fallout over public killings by a CIA contractor in Lahore and his subsequent detention.
Reports said operations at the base, which Washington has not publicly acknowledged, were conducted with tacit Pakistani military consent.
Neither does the United States officially confirm Predator drone attacks, but its military and the CIA operating in Afghanistan are the only forces in the region that deploy the armed, unmanned aircraft.
Pakistani and US officials have frequently been drawn into slanging matches, played out in the press, since the bin Laden raid humiliated the military and invited allegations of incompetence and complicity, as well as damaging trust.
"This trust deficit could be reduced by sitting together and taking joint actions," the state-sun Associated Press of Pakistan quoted Mukhtar as saying.
On Tuesday, US Vice Admiral William McRaven, who oversaw the bin Laden raid, said the US military believes Taliban supreme leader Mullah Omar is in Pakistan and had asked the Pakistani army to find him.
Asked about Omar, Mukhtar said: "If he was in Pakistan, even then, he would have left the country after the Abbottabad incident."
|A map of the Pakistani tribal area|
McRaven also said Pakistan showed no sign of either wanting or being able to crack down on the Al-Qaeda-linked Haqqani network operating from sanctuaries near the Afghan border, despite repeated US requests.
Pakistan angrily rejects US criticism of its record on militancy.
Thousands of troops have died fighting a homegrown Taliban insurgency in the northwest, although the military has not moved against those like the Haqqanis who confine their attacks to Afghanistan.
"Our concerns and constraints must be taken into consideration before making any statement questioning our commitment to fighting militancy," said military spokesman Major General Athar Abbas.
Around 4,500 other people have been killed in suicide and bomb attacks across the country since government troops raided Islamist extremists holed up in Islamabad mosque four years ago.