Around 300 Colombian mercenaries are reportedly fighting against Iranian-backed Shiite Houthi rebels in Yemen on behalf of the Saudi-led coalition, according to sources in Colombia.
Speaking to the Agence France Presse on the condition of anonymity, the sources said the mercenaries were recruited by the United Arab Emirates, which plays a prominent role in the Saudi-led coalition, to help restore the Yemeni government's control over the country.
"Colombian soldiers are highly prized for their training in fighting guerrillas," a former army officer in Bogota said. "Colombians have so many years of experience in war that they can take it."
With a long history in fighting far-leftist rebels, Colombian mercenaries have proved to be ideal recruits for countries around the world that are troubled by their own insurgencies.
International private security firms like Blackwater, recently renamed Academi, have in the past sent Colombian mercenaries to Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan and Djibouti.
According to the source, who was hired by Blackwater in 2004, as much as 1,500 Colombians were contracted by the company between 2004 and 2006.
Additionally 1,000 Peruvians, 500 Chileans and 250 Salvadorans were also employed in the same period.
The UAE, meanwhile, has hired a total of 3,000 Colombians for a private army since 2010, the source said, paying them around $3,300 a month.
The source said that 300 of these recruits had gone to Yemen “voluntarily” but this figure is far less than the 800 the UAE had planned to deploy as many had refused to go, despite being offered an extra $120 a day for three-month tours.
"The Colombians were supposed to pass unnoticed as local Emirati troops, and that caused a large number of them to desert," the source told AFP. "They said their contract was in the UAE and not fighting other people's wars."
"They want to make war an industry using Colombians as cannon fodder," the source added, while denying media reports that Colombians had actually been killed in combat in Yemen.