By NBC News December 11, 2011
|Foto: Pakistani security personnel examine a crashed US surveillance drone inside Pakistan in August.|
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.
The Pakistani airbase had been used by U.S. forces, including the CIA, to stage elements of a clandestine U.S. counter-terrorism operation to attack militants linked to al-Qaida, the Taliban and Pakistan's home-grown Haqqani network, using unmanned drone aircraft armed with missiles. President Barack Obama stepped up the drone campaign after he took office. U.S. officials say it has produced major successes in decimating the central leadership of al-Qaida and putting associated militant groups on the defensive.
Since 2004, U.S. drones have carried out more than 300 attacks inside Pakistan. Pakistani authorities started threatening U.S. personnel with eviction from the Shamsi base in the wake of the raid last May in which U.S. commandos killed Osama bin Laden at his hide-out near Islamabad without notifying Pakistani officials in advance. NBC News' Fakhar ur Rehman, msnbc.com's Sevil Omer and Reuters contributed to this report.