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Sunday, November 27, 2011

Pakistan Tells U.S. to 'Vacate' Air Base as Border Strike Inflames Tensions

Pakistan's government has ordered the U.S. to "vacate" an air base used for suspected drone attacks, in retaliation for a NATO strike that allegedly killed two-dozen Pakistani soldiers, Fox News has confirmed.

The demand marked the latest reprisal out of Pakistan, as the U.S. and NATO allies scramble to investigate the incident. Islamabad had already ordered the country's border crossings into Afghanistan closed, blocking off NATO supply lines, after the strike. The government issued the air base demand, and pledged a "complete review" of its relationship with the U.S. and NATO, following an emergency military meeting chaired by Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani.

Pakistan's Defense Committee condemned the attack in a written statement, saying the strike was "violative of international law and had gravely dented the fundamental basis of Pakistan's cooperation" with NATO against terrorists.

"The attack on Pakistan Army border posts is totally unacceptable and warrants an effective national response," the statement said.

The government urged the U.S. to leave the Shamsi Air Base within 15 days. The U.S. is suspected of using the facility in the past to launch armed drones and observation aircraft. Pakistan made a similar demand over the summer, though officials reportedly claimed the CIA had already suspended its use of the base as a staging ground for armed drones months earlier.

"Senior U.S. civilian and military officials have been in touch with their Pakistani counterparts from Islamabad, Kabul and Washington to express our condolences, our desire to work together to determine what took place, and our commitment to the U.S.-Pakistan partnership which advances our shared interests, including fighting terrorism in the region," the White House said in a statement Saturday.

Still, the tone of the Pakistani government's statement Saturday underscored the depth of the potential fallout after Pakistan accused NATO aircraft of firing on two army checkpoints and killing 24 soldiers. The incident early Saturday quickly exacerbated tensions between the two countries and threatened to escalate into a standoff more severe than one last year after a similar but less deadly strike.

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