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US drone base in Saudi Arabia

The US Central Intelligence Agency has been operating a secret airbase for unmanned drones in Saudi Arabia for the past two years.

The facility was established to hunt for members of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which is based in Yemen.

A drone flown from there was used in September 2011 to kill Anwar al-Awlaki, a US-born cleric who was alleged to be AQAP’s external operations chief.

US media have known of its existence since then, but have not reported it.

Senior government officials had said they were concerned that disclosure would undermine operations against AQAP, as well as potentially damage counter-terrorism collaboration with Saudi Arabia.

The US military pulled out virtually all of its troops from Saudi Arabia in 2003, having stationed between 5,000 and 10,000 troops in the Gulf kingdom after the 1991 Gulf war. Only personnel from the United States Military Training Mission (USMTM) officially remain.

The location of the secret drone base was not revealed in the US reports.

However, construction was ordered after a December 2009 cruise missile strike in Yemen, according to the New York Times.

It was the first strike ordered by the Obama administration, and ended in disaster, with dozens of civilians, including women and children, killed.

US officials told the newspaper that the first time the CIA used the secret facility was to kill Awlaki.

Since then, the CIA has been “given the mission of hunting and killing ‘high-value targets’ in Yemen” – the leaders of AQAP who government lawyers had determined posed a direct threat to the US – the officials added.

Three other Americans, including Awlaki’s 16-year-old son, have also been killed in US strikes in Yemen, which can reportedly be carried out without the permission of the country’s government. (BBC)

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