The United Arab Emirates (UAE) confirmed on Sunday that it had hired a company run by Erik Prince, the billionaire founder of Blackwater Worldwide, to provide “operational, planning and training support” to its military. However, it gave no details of the company’s project to build a foreign mercenary battalion for the Emirati government.
A written statement from a top Emirati general, issued through the UAE’s official news agency, said that the country had relied extensively on outside contractors to bolster its military, and that all work with contractors was “compliant with international law and relevant conventions.”
The statement, by General Juma Ali Khalaf al-Hamiri, said that the UAE had signed a contract with Reflex Responses, Prince’s company, but made no mention of the hundreds of Colombian, South African and other foreign troops now training at an Emirati military base. The statement did not mention Prince by name.
The New York Times reported on Sunday that the company last year signed a US$529 million contract with the Emirati government to recruit and train a foreign battalion for counterterrorism and internal security missions, according to former Reflex Responses employees, US officials and corporate documents.
Former employees said that the company had a separate lucrative contract to help protect a string of planned nuclear reactors in the country and to provide cyber security for the nuclear sites.
The UAE is a close US ally, and officials in Washington indicated there was some support in US President Barack Obama’s administration for the foreign mercenary battalion. However, the Department of State is looking into the project to ensure it does not violate US laws regulating the export of defense technology and expertise.
Al-Hamiri’s statement said the UAE’s military had gone through an “extensive process of development and Emiratisation,” which has allowed Emirati forces to make “meaningful contributions” in recent conflicts in places like Kosovo, Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya.
Kateri Carmola, a professor at Middlebury College who researches the use of private security companies, said that it was common for countries to hire contractors for military training, but that it appeared Reflex Responses had more ambitious goals both in the UAE and elsewhere.
“There is no real legal precedent for a company like this, where the UAE would be used as a launch pad for a wide range of missions, and potentially for a wide range of clients,” she said.