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Friday 21 July 2017

Pakistan orders US to quit base after choppers kill 24

ROB CRILLY in ISLAMABAD

Pakistan has ordered the US to quit an air base on its territory over the next 15 days, following an attack on a border post that killed 24 of its soldiers and was apparently carried out by Nato helicopters.

Government officials had earlier blocked Nato supplies to Afghanistan and condemned the 2am airstrike on the Afghan border as a "grave infringement" of sovereignty.

Pakistan's prime minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani, called a meeting of his cabinet's defence committee, which in a statement condemned the attack and told the US to vacate the Shamsi air base, where the CIA is believed to base predator drones, within 15 days.

It added: "The government will revisit and undertake a complete review of all programmes, activities and co-operative arrangements with US/Nato/Isaf, including diplomatic, political, military and intelligence," it added.

Nato forces in Kabul said an investigation was under way and admitted it was "highly likely" the coalition had killed the soldiers in the Baizai area of the Mohmand region.

General John Allen, the alliance's senior commander in Afghanistan, offered condolences to "the families and loved ones of any members of Pakistan security forces who may have been killed or injured". His statement failed to placate Islamabad, where the foreign ministry said the attack could have "serious repercussions" for co-operation between the uneasy allies.

Cameron Munter, the US ambassador to Pakistan, had earlier been summoned to receive a "strong protest" ahead of the meeting.

Washington's relations with Islamabad have sunk to new lows this year after al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was found hiding inside Pakistan and an American contractor working for the CIA shot dead two men in Lahore.

The incident last Friday night was a major blow to already strained relations between Islamabad and US-led forces fighting in Afghanistan. It will add to perceptions in Pakistan that the US presence in the region is malevolent, and to resentment toward the weak government in Islamabad for its co-operation with Washington.

It comes a little over a year after a similar but less deadly strike, in which US helicopters accidentally killed two Pakistani soldiers near the Afghan border, whom the pilots mistook for insurgents.

©Telegraph

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