The UAE heavily leans on mercenaries to do its bidding and the US is using the emirate has a client to carry out its own military adventures.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has hired thousands of mercenaries and deployed private armies to carry out high-profile assassinations and further its geopolitical ambitions in the Middle East, according to a statement given last week by the International Institute for Rights and Development and the Rights Radar Foundation at the 45th Session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva last week.

“The UAE hired American mercenaries to carry out high-profile assassinations in Yemen. They conducted several operations in Aden and several cities, resulting in the assassinations of dozens of politicians and public figures during the past five years of conflict in Yemen,” reads the joint statement.

“Among 30,000 mercenaries from four Latin American countries hired by the UAE, at least 450 mercenaries have been deployed to Yemen after they received training by US trainers.”

In 2018, BuzzFeed News documented how the UAE hired a small private army, comprising former US Special Forces operatives, to assassinate Anssaf Ali Mayo, the local leader of a Yemeni Islamist political party Al Islah, whose members count among Nobel Peace Prize recipients.

The UAE wanted Ali Mayo dead not because he was a terrorist, but because he spoke out against the UAE’s involvement in the war that has ravaged his country since 2015.

“The mercenaries’ plan was to attach a bomb laced with shrapnel to the door of al-Islah’s headquarters, located near a soccer stadium in central Aden, a key Yemeni port city. The explosion, one of the leaders of the expedition explained, was supposed to 'kill everybody in that office’,” as reported by BuzzFeed News.

But only seconds before the bomb was to be planted at the target site, however, one of the mercenaries began shooting towards an approaching individual in the “dimly lit street.”

The failed plot would prove to be pivotal movement, launching a wave of UAE funded political assassinations in Yemen, resulting in the deaths of more than two dozen of Al Islah’s leaders alone.

UAE based corporations have also deployed American, Australian, and European mercenaries to assist the warlord General Khalifa Haftar in its efforts to overthrow the UN recognised government in Tripoli, and in violation of an international arms embargo, according to an ongoing UN investigation, and as reported recently by the Australian television program Four Corners.

On 27 June 2019, 20 mercenaries, each paid $80,000 for a 3-month contract by Lancaster 6 DMCC and Opus Capital Asset Limited FZE, both registered in the UAE, arrived in Benghazi to fulfil their commitments pursuant to an $80 million contract the companies had signed with the Libyan warlord.

The mercenaries would essentially operate as Haftar’s special forces, with the mission to identify, hunt and kill members of the Libyan government in Tripoli, but when the mercenaries arrived without the promised attack helicopters, Haftar was furious and threatened to kill the mercenaries, who fled the next morning to Malta, where they were arrested and detained for 24 hours.

“When you privatize war, anything goes…suddenly laws of supply and demand replace laws of armed conflict,” a former mercenary told Four Corners. “Ideology, patriotism, national security; it’s only as good as you can afford.”

These mercenaries and private armies are changing the way in which we understand the rules of war and the international system. Whereas inter-state warfare is defined within the realm of nation-state based international law, private military contractors (PMCs) operate outside that paradigm and with no clear system holding them accountable for their crimes. 

If the trend towards the use of PMCs continues, wars won’t be waged by governments but rather by the world’s wealthiest individuals and corporations, whom may use their wealth and resources to carry out political assassinations, coups, and armed conflict in secret and far away from the scrutiny of global governance.

A world in which Tesla’s Elon Musk could easily hire mercenaries to assassinate members of a foreign government that oppose his company’s operations, for example, is a world in which anyone but the wealthiest one percent do not wish to inhabit.

Equally, nobody in the Middle East – excluding the monarchs of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, and Oman – is supportive of a UAE government that hires and deploys mercenaries to carry out the assassination of their country’s political leaders, journalists, and human rights activists.

The growing special relationship between US President Donald Trump and UAE Crown Price Mohammed bin Zayed (MBZ) also adds cause for further alarm, given it’s increasingly apparent the UAE is fast becoming the United States’ favourite military option of choice for the Middle East, which is not only further exacerbating conflict in the region but also undermining traditional security alliances, including NATO.

“We have created a little Frankenstein,” Tamara Cofman Wittes, a former US State Department official and fellow at the Brookings Institution, told the New York Times, referring to MBZ.

Over the course of the past two decades, the UAE, a tiny speck of a country, holding a local population that numbers not much more than 1 million people, has procured the most advanced military in the Arab world, buying billions of dollars worth of weapons, training and other security assistance from the US.

According to David Kirkpatrick, a former Cairo bureau chief for the New York Times, MBZ’s influence in US foreign policy “appears greater than ever” and has “frequently” convinced Trump to adopt his views on Qatar, Libya, and Saudi Arabia, “even over the advice of cabinet officials or senior national security staff.”

In throwing the Palestinian people under the proverbial bus and putting an end to whatever slim hopes of an independent Palestinian state remained, the UAE has also been rewarded with dozens of armed US drones, and most likely could soon take receivership of the much sought after F-35 fighter jet program.

And now the UAE is lobbying Trump to transfer the US airbase in Incirlik, Turkey to Abu Dhabi, in an effort to undermine the US-Turkey alliance and damage Turkey’s strategic interests and security along the Syrian border and in Libya.

From a US government perspective, the UAE makes for a perfect military client because it gives it a tool to execute its military objectives in the Middle East without having to concern itself with human rights and domestic political considerations. 

Essentially, the US is building the capacity to wage kinetic military actions while hiding behind the UAE and its private armies.

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