February 6, 2013 - 15:17 AMT
PanARMENIAN.Net - The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency has been operating a secret airbase for unmanned drones in Saudi Arabia for the past two years, BBC News reported.
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 U.S.-born cleric who was alleged to be AQAP's external operations chief.
U.S. media have known of its existence since then, but have not reported it.
The U.S. 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.
Construction of the drone base 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.
U.S. 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.
Drones can reportedly carry out strikes without the permission of Yemen's government.
The Washington Post reported that President Barak Obama's counter-terrorism adviser, John Brennan, a former CIA station chief in Saudi Arabia, played a key role in negotiations with the government in Riyadh over building the drone base.
Saudi Arabia is home to some of Islam's holiest sites and the deployment of U.S. forces there was seen as a historic betrayal by many Islamists, notably the late leader of al-Qaeda, Osama Bin Laden.
It was one of the main reasons given by the Saudi-born militant to justify violence against the U.S. and its allies.