A drone base in Saudi Arabia from which the CIA conducts lethal drone strikes against al-Qaeda militants inside Yemen has been reported about by the Associated Press in 2011, but it’s location was withheld at the request of officials. On Tuesday, the New York Times disclosed the location of the base, which was used to carry out the mission killing Anwar al-Awlaki in September 2011. Now, satellite images from Bing might revealing specific details about the about the base.
As Wired puts it, the location of the base on the online map service “would be almost impossible to discover randomly.”
Here are details Wired has picked up about the base from the images:
The images show a trio of “clamshell”-style hangars, surrounded by fencing. Each is more than 150 feet long and approximately 75 feet wide; that’s sufficient to hold U.S. Predator and Reaper drones. The hangars are slightly larger, though similar in shape, to ones housing unmanned planes at Kandahar Air Field in Afghanistan. Shamsi Air Field in Pakistan, which once held U.S. drones, boasts a group of three hangars not unlike the ones of the Saudi base. No remotely piloted aircraft are visible in the images. But a pair of former American intelligence officers tell Danger Room that they are reasonably sure that this is the base revealed by the media earlier this week.
Three airstrips are visible in the pictures; two are big enough to land drones or conventional light aircraft. A third runway, under construction, is substantially longer and wider. In other words: The facility is growing, and it is expanding to fly much larger planes.
Wired reported an unnamed former officer saying the remote location in Rub al Khali, which he said is “otherwise known as Hell,” makes the base a major logistical feat. National Geographic has called the area the “Empty Quarter,” which is both the most and least hospitable place on Earth that has as much sand as half of that in the entire Sahara desert.
“The way it fits inconspicuously into the terrain is also admirable,” the former officer said to Wired.
Any operation by U.S. military or intelligence officials inside Saudi Arabia is politically and religiously sensitive. Al-Qaeda and other militant groups have used the Gulf kingdom’s close working relationship with U.S. counterterrorism officials to stir internal dissent against the Saudi regime.
See the Bing map of what is thought to be the base here. Wired noted that Google’s satellite images do not pick up any details of the base.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.