Monday, May 23, 2011

Abu Dhabi's mercenaries need an incentive to stay

From the NYT on May 14th:

 ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — Late one night last November, a plane carrying dozens of Colombian men touched down in this glittering seaside capital. Whisked through customs by an Emirati intelligence officer, the group boarded an unmarked bus and drove roughly 20 miles to a windswept military complex in the desert sand.
The Colombians had entered the United Arab Emirates posing as construction workers. In fact, they were soldiers for a secret American-led mercenary army being built by Erik Prince, the billionaire founder of Blackwater Worldwide, with $529 million from the oil-soaked sheikdom.

Reflex Response is the new name given to the mercenaries formerly know as Blackwater, led by the aformentioned Erik Prince. R2, as the group is know in the Gulf, is in fact an Emirati company, with the government's stake at 51%. Prince has called this place his home for almost a year now, during which time he has been successfully convincing the Sheiks the benefits of a private foreign army (a la Gadafi).

Know for his groups' despicable practices, Prince has been distancing himself from his former company (currently re-branded as Xe). The former name was tainted by their operations in Iraq, where the group received several no-bid contracts amounting to 21 million USD. They have garnered harsh criticism for their behavior (to put it lightly) and have been investigated by several Governments, including the Iraqi government, for their abuses:

From the NYT again:
Contractors often shot with little discrimination — and few if any consequences — at unarmed Iraqi civilians, Iraqi security forces, American troops and even other contractors, stirring public outrage and undermining much of what the coalition forces were sent to accomplish. The mayhem cropped up around Iraq, notably in one episode reported in March 2005 in which a small battle erupted involving three separate security companies... of which was Blackwater. Most famously, the group opened fire on a crowd of people and killed at least 17 civilians including women and children, and wounded some 30 others in what came to be known as the Nisoor Square Massacre. In April of this year a US federal appeals court reopened the case against four Blackwater mercenaries.

Make no mistake. These are the worst people in the world. They go above and beyond the call of duty for a bloodthirsty gang of mercenaries. They bribe officials, smuggle arms, open fire upon civilians, and shoot at other private soldiers that are supposedly 'on their side'. There are endless stories about companies like Blackwater that mercilessly shoot down defenseless citizens.

Here in Abu Dhabi, the threat of citizens taking action against the government is slim to none. Unlike Bahrain, the people here are religiously homogenous. Unlike Egypt, no political opposition to the government exists. Unlike Libya, the people here are placated with houses, free school and health care, and all manner of interest free loans encouraging entrepreneurship and personal wealth creation. Basically, any and all reasons for uprising have either been dealt with or simply do not exist. As a friend recently put it, "If Emiratis were to protest... well, they'd probably send their Philipina maids in their place. It's too hot outside you know..." Three bloggers were arrested earlier this year for their harsh criticism of the regime, but I still can't imagine an organized demonstration of any kind. So what use is R2?

The main threat to the Sheiks, if any could be cited at all, may come from Iran. It's no secret that the strife in Bahrain this past spring was fomented by Iran. Here, however, there are very few Shia for Iran to eqip with rebellious ideology or weapons.

In any case, the government is easily courted by a security company from the US, a country with which the UAE has close ties. But it is not clear if the US State Department has had any involvement in the deal, or conversely, if Relex Response is in fact breaking US law by training foreign troops without first receiving their blessing. The UAE has had a strong history of pouring money on American military initiatives, and surely the offer of your own personal international guard makes too much sense to reject.

According to the NYT, R2 is spending $9 million per month on initiatives including training Emiratis, and paying south asian laborers to cook, clean and maintain their camp (as one does in this part of the world). Pennies for a Sheik. But operations have not been so smooth. Like any company that comes to the UAE, R2 has been plagued with what we call "runners". Handfuls of employees have been hired and either quit or were fired within months. They come, make a quick buck and realize this place is a desert. But with all the prostitutes in Dubai (rock up to the Fairmont any night of the week and you'll see what I mean) I'm sure R2 can persuade its mercenaries to stay.

They have no other reason.

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