Washington: The CIA conducts lethal drone strikes against Al Qaida militants inside Yemen from a remote base in Saudi Arabia, including the strike that killed the US-born Al Qaida operative Anwar Al Awlaki, US media outlets have revealed.
The base was established two years ago to intensify the hunt for members of Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, as the affiliate in Yemen is known. John O. Brennan, Obama’s nominee for CIA director who previously served as the CIA’s station chief in Saudi Arabia, played a key role in negotiations with Riyadh over locating an agency drone base inside the kingdom.
US media outlets had been aware of the location of the base but withheld the information on the Obama administration’s request.
The Washington Post, which revealed the details, said it had refrained from disclosing the location at the request of the US administration, which was concerned that exposing the facility would undermine operations against the Al Qaida affiliate — regarded as the network’s most potent threat to the US. They were also aware of the potential damage to their anti-terrorism collaboration with Saudi Arabia.
The location of the base was first disclosed by The New York Times online on Tuesday night, prompting the Post to follow suit, effectively ending an informal arrangement among several news organisations that had been aware of the location for more than a year.
The Associated Press first reported the construction of the base in June 2011 but withheld the exact location at the request of senior administration officials. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because portions of the military and CIA missions in Yemen are classified.
Any operation by US military or intelligence officials inside Saudi Arabia is politically and religiously sensitive. Al Qaida and other militant groups have used the Gulf kingdom’s close working relationship with US anti-terrorism officials to stir internal dissent against the Saudi regime.
— With inputs from Washington Post and AP