The role of private security contractors in Middle Eastern conflicts has been connected to numerous reports of human rights violations. (photo: Reuters)
08 July 17
he UAE army has been working for years to strengthen its military capability, yet only a small percentage of its operational staff actually hold UAE passports, it has emerged.
The role of private security contractors in Middle Eastern conflicts has been connected to numerous reports of human rights violations – but their central role in running the UAE’s military is rarely examined.
Reports first emerged in 2015 that the UAE was sending mercenaries to fight in Yemen, choosing not to send its own citizens to fight in the chaos.
Sudanese Janjaweed, Colombians, South African and other foreign troops are all being trained and dispatched by ex-military experts from France, the UK and Australia in the UAE’s presidential guard.
The top officer in the Presidential Guard is an Australian citizen called Mike Hindmarsh, while responsibility for recruitment was delegated to a UAE firm called Reflex Responses Company, also known as R2.
Reflex Responses Company (R2)
R2 was founded in 2010 by a United States military contractor called Erik Prince, the same year the former US Navy SEAL officer moved to the UAE – and only months after he sold his stake in the ‘controversial’ mercenary firm, Blackwater.
Four former Blackwater employees were convicted in 2014 for their part in a 2007 mass shooting that left at least 17 Iraqi civilians dead. The case was connected to a long list of similar massacres carried out by Blackwater employees.
The name Blackwater is not popular in the Middle East as a result. Earlier this week, 52 Iraqi MPs called on Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi earlier this week to cancel contracts with Olive Group over its links to Erik Prince’s UAE firm.
Yet despite this controversy, the Prince of Abu Dhabi, Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, continues to employ R2 to deploy foreign mercenaries in Yemen, reporting directly to him.
Frontier Services Group (FSG)
In Libya, foreign mercenaries, employed by Prince, were being used to fly UAE ally, General Khalifa Haftar’s war-planes.
In Somalia, the same firm is responsible for ‘security services’ for western development services near Mogadishu.
And in South Sudan, FSG is hired to fly warplanes over the world’s newest country’s oil fields to provide protection.
Wherever the UAE seeks to push its foreign policy abroad, FSG can be found, time and again, to provide ‘security’ in those countries.
The Trump connection
The man behind FSG, R2 and Blackwater, Erik Prince, has an important ally in Trump’s cabinet – his own sister, the education secretary, Betsy Devos.
Erik Prince is reportedly a “shadowy” military adviser to US President Donald Trump, due to a close relationship with Trump’s advisers, Steve Bannon and Peter Thiel.
Nine days before Trump’s inauguration, the prince reportedly held back-channel meetings with Russian military personnel, connected to Russia’s President Putin, in the Seychelles islands.
The deal was brokered by the prince’s business colleague and friend, Prince Nahyan.
The White House and Erik Prince both denied involvement in the meetings and said it had no connection to President Trump – but the UAE’s involvement was never commented on.
The two Princes
It had been thought that Erik Prince had given up interest in the UAE, following excessive media interest in his role in Middle Eastern conflicts.
Prince moved his company’s offices to Hong Kong to work with the Chinese government in providing security contracts in Africa.
Yet despite this shift, it appears that with a new President ally in the White House, Erik Prince has found an ideological partner in Abu Dhabi.
Prince and Nayhan are looking together to Yemen, Libya, Somalia and Afghanistan and few, if any, UAE nationals will ever be involved.