Last Sunday the New York Times (NYT) published an article detailing how Sheik Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan of Abu Dhabi hired Blackwater founder Erik Prince in order to create a private army. The 800-member group of foreign mercenaries who trained at a United Arab Emirates (UAE) military base included Colombians who served as ex-policemen and military personnel.
The NYT article revealed that the leaders of the UAE viewed their own military as “inadequate” and hence went ahead with plans staring last year to create an army for hire. Aside from “conducting special operations missions” both domestically and abroad, the private army could also be “deployed” in case that UAE residents engaged in “pro-democracy protests” similar to those in Egypt, Libya and Bahrain. “Former employees” interviewed by the NYT added that there was “talk” that the hired troops would be used in a military assault of a chain of islands in the Persian Gulf that are the “subject of a dispute” between Iran and the UAE.
A statement from General Juma Ali Khalaf al-Hamiri acknowledged that the UAE hired outside security contractors and that they were was ''compliant with international law and relevant conventions''. Yet he made no mention of the NYT’s allegations of a private army including Colombian mercenaries that was organized by the R2 company.
According to Calixto Rincón, a former Colombian policeman hired by Prince, his countrymen were targeted due to their combat experience. Furthermore, the article claimed that the Colombians were also sought since R2 refused to hire Muslim fighters who would be reluctant to kill others from their same religion.
UAE leaders apparently got less than they had hoped for:
The Emirates wanted the troops to be ready to deploy just weeks after stepping off the plane, but it quickly became clear that the Colombians’ military skills fell far below expectations. “Some of these kids couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn,” said a former employee. Other recruits admitted to never having fired a weapon...U.S. officials are investigating if Prince had the permission required from the State Department in order to operate foreign forces in the UAE.
Making matters worse, the recruitment pipeline began drying up. Former employees said that Thor struggled to sign up, and keep, enough men on the ground. Mr. Rincón developed a hernia and was forced to return to Colombia, while others were dismissed from the program for drug use or poor conduct.
Image- France24 (“A general view of buildings along the Dubai marina in the Gulf emirate.”)
Online Sources- The Latin Americanist, Taipei Times, El Tiempo, Colombia Reports, New York Times, Sydney Morning Herald, The Independent