US has operated secret Saudi drone base for last two years
THE United States has been operating a secret drone base in Saudi Arabia for the past two years as a launch pad for attacks on terrorist targets in Yemen, it has emerged.
A news blackout on reporting the existence of the base was broken by two American newspapers. The blackout had been agreed by media organisations and the Obama administration because of the national-security issues involved.
The first pilotless CIA mission flown from the base killed Anwar al-Awlaki, the US-born cleric and senior figure in al-Qa'ida in the Arabian Peninsula, and a deputy in September 2011, reports said.
Another Predator drone strike killed Awlaki's 16-year-old son Abdulrahman weeks later, though US officials claimed in 'The Washington Post' that he was not the target.
There have been at least 64 drone attacks on the unstable Arab state since 2002, although most came last year as Barack Obama escalated the frequency of the strikes to an estimated one a week at times.
The disclosure of the drone airfield will embarrass the Saudi royal family, which still faces anger from powerful conservative clerics for allowing the US to establish military bases in the country following the 1991 Gulf War.
The 'Washington Post' said several media groups were aware of the drone base but abided by requests not to disclose its location because of the risk to counter-terrorism cooperation with Saudi Arabia.
The newspaper said that when it learnt that another news organisation, the 'New York Times', planned to break the agreement, it decided to publish what it knew.
Mr Obama's decision to nominate John Brennan as CIA director has brought into focus the quasi-official drone programme, which has killed an estimated 3,000 militants and civilians in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen.
Mr Brennan faces a confirmation hearing in Congress today that provides critics with a rare chance to question the ethics of using drone missiles.
As chief counter-terrorism adviser in the White House, Mr Brennan has been central to drawing up a hit list of "high value" al-Qa'ida targets for Mr Obama's approval. (©Daily Telegraph, London)