United States government lawyers are investigating reports that the former owner of a controversial private security firm has been hired to form a mercenary army for the rulers of the United Arab Emirates.
By Richard Spencer, Dubai
Erik Prince, the former owner of Blackwater Worldwide, which was accused of multiple killings of civilians in Iraq, has signed a deal to train Colombian and other recruits in a private “foreign legion” to take part in special operations at home and even abroad.
Among its potential tasks are to defend the UAE from uprisings and terror attacks and if necessary to take part in any conflict with Iran, according to the New York Times.
Mr Prince was hired by the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, who oversees most of the country’s security policies and is a close American ally. He is also one of the Gulf’s most hawkish leaders on relations with the Islamic Republic across the narrow waters of the Gulf.
According to the report, the 580-strong battalion has been established in Zayed Military City, just off the main road linking Abu Dhabi to Dubai, alongside Emirati troops, and provided by Mr Prince with trainers, mostly veterans of the American, British and German armies and special forces.
No Muslims have been recruited, for fear that they would be unwilling to kill fellow Muslims, the report said, though it did not explain how that squared with the policy of many Gulf regimes including the UAE to recruit members of their police and armed forces from poorer Arab countries across the region.
The US government is understood to be examining whether laws which require American citizens to be licensed before providing training to foreign forces have been broken. But the contract is being managed through a firm called Reflex Responses which is said to have 51 per cent Emirati ownership.
Blackwater Worldwide faced prosecution over the deaths of 14 civilians in Baghdad in 2007, in an incident which brought accusations that the many private contractors operating in Iraq, in many cases former American and British soldiers, were operating outside legal controls.
Mr Prince renamed his company Xe after the incident, and after selling it eventually moved to Abu Dhabi, an oasis of security in a region which has provided profitable contracts for private security firms. He is said to have organised protection for shipping from Somali pirates, and to be preparing a standing freelance militia which could be hired out to countries facing a security crisis.
Both the UAE government spokesman and the American Embassy said they had no comment on the report.