[News] Secret UAE desert force set up by Blackwaters founder
news at freedomarchives.org
Sun May 15 17:34:09 EDT 2011
Secret UAE desert force set up by Blackwaters founder
Documents show 800-strong mercenary force is
aimed at UAE's external and internal foes
By MARK MAZZETTI and EMILY B. HAGER
(for this there is no call for a gang injunction - FA)
updated 5/14/2011 10:33:56 PM ET
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.
Mr. Prince, who resettled here last year after
his security business faced mounting legal
problems in the United States, was hired by the
crown prince of Abu Dhabi to put together an
800-member battalion of foreign troops for the
U.A.E., according to former employees on the
project, American officials and corporate
documents obtained by The New York Times.
The force is intended to conduct special
operations missions inside and outside the
country, defend oil pipelines and skyscrapers
from terrorist attacks and put down internal
revolts, the documents show. Such troops could be
deployed if the Emirates faced unrest or were
challenged by pro-democracy demonstrations in its
crowded labor camps or democracy protests like
those sweeping the Arab world this year.
The U.A.E.s rulers, viewing their own military
as inadequate, also hope that the troops could
blunt the regional aggression of Iran, the
countrys biggest foe, the former employees said.
The training camp, located on a sprawling Emirati
base called Zayed Military City, is hidden behind
concrete walls laced with barbed wire.
Photographs show rows of identical yellow
temporary buildings, used for barracks and mess
halls, and a motor pool, which houses Humvees and
fuel trucks. The Colombians, along with South
African and other foreign troops, are trained by
retired American soldiers and veterans of the
German and British special operations units and
the French Foreign Legion, according to the
former employees and American officials.
In outsourcing critical parts of their defense to
mercenaries the soldiers of choice for medieval
kings, Italian Renaissance dukes and African
dictators the Emiratis have begun a new era in
the boom in wartime contracting that began after
the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. And by relying on a
force largely created by Americans, they have
introduced a volatile element in an already
combustible region where the United States is widely viewed with suspicion.
The United Arab Emirates an autocracy with the
sheen of a progressive, modern state are
closely allied with the United States, and
American officials indicated that the battalion
program had some support in Washington.
The gulf countries, and the U.A.E. in
particular, dont have a lot of military
experience. It would make sense if they looked
outside their borders for help, said one Obama
administration official who knew of the
operation. They might want to show that they are not to be messed with.
Still, it is not clear whether the project has
the United States official blessing. Legal
experts and government officials said some of
those involved with the battalion might be
breaking federal laws that prohibit American
citizens from training foreign troops if they did
not secure a license from the State Department.
Mark C. Toner, a spokesman for the department,
would not confirm whether Mr. Princes company
had obtained such a license, but he said the
department was investigating to see if the
training effort was in violation of American
laws. Mr. Toner pointed out that Blackwater
(which renamed itself Xe Services ) paid $42
million in fines last year for training foreign
troops in Jordan and other countries over the years.
The U.A.E.s ambassador to Washington, Yousef
al-Otaiba, declined to comment for this article.
A spokesman for Mr. Prince also did not comment.
For Mr. Prince, the foreign battalion is a bold
attempt at reinvention. He is hoping to build an
empire in the desert, far from the trial lawyers,
Congressional investigators and Justice
Department officials he is convinced worked in
league to portray Blackwater as reckless. He sold
the company last year, but in April, a federal
appeals court reopened the case against four
Blackwater guards accused of killing 17 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad in 2007.
To help fulfill his ambitions, Mr. Princes new
company, Reflex Responses, obtained another
multimillion-dollar contract to protect a string
of planned nuclear power plants and to provide
cybersecurity. He hopes to earn billions more,
the former employees said, by assembling
additional battalions of Latin American troops
for the Emiratis and opening a giant complex
where his company can train troops for other governments.
Knowing that his ventures are magnets for
controversy, Mr. Prince has masked his
involvement with the mercenary battalion. His
name is not included on contracts and most other
corporate documents, and company insiders have at
times tried to hide his identity by referring to
him by the code name Kingfish. But three former
employees, speaking on the condition of anonymity
because of confidentiality agreements, and two
people involved in security contracting described Mr. Princes central role.
The former employees said that in recruiting the
Colombians and others from halfway around the
world, Mr. Princes subordinates were following
his strict rule: hire no Muslims.
Muslim soldiers, Mr. Prince warned, could not be
counted on to kill fellow Muslims.
A Lucrative Deal
Last spring, as waiters in the lobby of the Park
Arjaan by Rotana Hotel passed by carrying cups of
Turkish coffee, a small team of Blackwater and
American military veterans huddled over plans for
the foreign battalion. Armed with a black
suitcase stuffed with several hundred thousand
dollars worth of dirhams, the local currency,
they began paying the first bills.
The company, often called R2, was licensed last
March with 51 percent local ownership, a typical
arrangement in the Emirates. It received about
$21 million in start-up capital from the U.A.E., the former employees said.
Mr. Prince made the deal with Sheik Mohamed bin
Zayed al-Nahyan, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi
and the de facto ruler of the United Arab
Emirates. The two men had known each other for
several years, and it was the princes idea to
build a foreign commando force for his country.
Savvy and pro-Western, the prince was educated at
the Sandhurst military academy in Britain and
formed close ties with American military
officials. He is also one of the regions
staunchest hawks on Iran and is skeptical that
his giant neighbor across the Strait of Hormuz
will give up its nuclear program.
He sees the logic of war dominating the region,
and this thinking explains his near-obsessive
efforts to build up his armed forces, said a
November 2009 cable from the American Embassy in
Abu Dhabi that was obtained by the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks.
For Mr. Prince, a 41-year-old former member of
the Navy Seals, the battalion was an opportunity
to turn vision into reality. At Blackwater, which
had collected billions of dollars in security
contracts from the United States government, he
had hoped to build an army for hire that could be
deployed to crisis zones in Africa, Asia and the
Middle East. He even had proposed that the
Central Intelligence Agency use his company for
special operations missions around the globe, but
to no avail. In Abu Dhabi, which he praised in an
Emirati newspaper interview last year for its
pro-business climate, he got another chance.
Mr. Princes exploits, both real and rumored, are
the subject of fevered discussions in the private
security world. He has worked with the Emirati
government on various ventures in the past year,
including an operation using South African
mercenaries to train Somalis to fight pirates.
There was talk, too, that he was hatching a
scheme last year to cap the Icelandic volcano
then spewing ash across Northern Europe.
The team in the hotel lobby was led by Ricky
Chambers, known as C. T., a former agent with the
Federal Bureau of Investigation who had worked
for Mr. Prince for years; most recently, he had
run a program training Afghan troops for a
Blackwater subsidiary called Paravant.
He was among the half-dozen or so Americans who
would serve as top managers of the project,
receiving nearly $300,000 in annual compensation.
Mr. Chambers and Mr. Prince soon began quietly
luring American contractors from Afghanistan,
Iraq and other danger spots with pay packages
that topped out at more than $200,000 a year,
according to a budget document. Many of those who
signed on as trainers which eventually included
more than 40 veteran American, European and South
African commandos did not know of Mr. Princes
involvement, the former employees said.
Mr. Chambers did not respond to requests for comment.
He and Mr. Prince also began looking for
soldiers. They lined up Thor Global Enterprises,
a company on the Caribbean island of Tortola
specializing in placing foreign servicemen in
private security positions overseas, according
to a contract signed last May. The recruits would be paid about $150 a day.
Within months, large tracts of desert were
bulldozed and barracks constructed. The Emirates
were to provide weapons and equipment for the
mercenary force, supplying everything from M-16
rifles to mortars, Leatherman knives to Land
Rovers. They agreed to buy parachutes,
motorcycles, rucksacks and 24,000 pairs of socks.
To keep a low profile, Mr. Prince rarely visited
the camp or a cluster of luxury villas near the
Abu Dhabi airport, where R2 executives and
Emirati military officers fine-tune the training
schedules and arrange weapons deliveries for the
battalion, former employees said. He would show
up, they said, in an office suite at the DAS
Tower a skyscraper just steps from Abu Dhabis
Corniche beach, where sunbathers lounge as
cigarette boats and water scooters whiz by. Staff
members there manage a number of companies that
the former employees say are carrying out secret
work for the Emirati government.
Emirati law prohibits disclosure of incorporation
records for businesses, which typically list
company officers, but it does require them to
post company names on offices and storefronts.
Over the past year, the sign outside the suite
has changed at least twice it now says Assurance Management Consulting.
While the documents including contracts, budget
sheets and blueprints obtained by The Times do
not mention Mr. Prince, the former employees said
he negotiated the U.A.E. deal. Corporate
documents describe the battalions possible
tasks: intelligence gathering, urban combat, the
securing of nuclear and radioactive materials,
humanitarian missions and special operations to
destroy enemy personnel and equipment.
One document describes crowd-control operations
where the crowd is not armed with firearms but
does pose a risk using improvised weapons (clubs and stones).
People involved in the project and American
officials said that the Emiratis were interested
in deploying the battalion to respond to
terrorist attacks and put down uprisings inside
the countrys sprawling labor camps, which house
the Pakistanis, Filipinos and other foreigners
who make up the bulk of the countrys work force.
The foreign military force was planned months
before the so-called Arab Spring revolts that
many experts believe are unlikely to spread to
the U.A.E. Iran was a particular concern.
An Eye on Iran
Although there was no expectation that the
mercenary troops would be used for a stealth
attack on Iran, Emirati officials talked of using
them for a possible maritime and air assault to
reclaim a chain of islands, mostly uninhabited,
in the Persian Gulf that are the subject of a
dispute between Iran and the U.A.E., the former
employees said. Iran has sent military forces to
at least one of the islands, Abu Musa, and
Emirati officials have long been eager to retake
the islands and tap their potential oil reserves.
The Emirates have a small military that includes
army, air force and naval units as well as a
small special operations contingent, which served
in Afghanistan, but over all, their forces are considered inexperienced.
In recent years, the Emirati government has
showered American defense companies with billions
of dollars to help strengthen the countrys
security. A company run by Richard A. Clarke, a
former counterterrorism adviser during the
Clinton and Bush administrations, has won several
lucrative contracts to advise the U.A.E. on how to protect its infrastructure.
Some security consultants believe that Mr.
Princes efforts to bolster the Emirates
defenses against an Iranian threat might yield
some benefits for the American government, which
shares the U.A.E.s concern about creeping Iranian influence in the region.
As much as Erik Prince is a pariah in the United
States, he may be just what the doctor ordered in
the U.A.E., said an American security consultant with knowledge of R2s work.
The contract includes a one-paragraph legal and
ethics policy noting that R2 should institute
accountability and disciplinary procedures. The
overall goal, the contract states, is to ensure
that the team members supporting this effort
continuously cast the program in a professional
and moral light that will hold up to a level of media scrutiny.
But former employees said that R2s leaders never
directly grappled with some fundamental questions
about the operation. International laws governing
private armies and mercenaries are murky, but
would the Americans overseeing the training of a
foreign army on foreign soil be breaking United States law?
Susan Kovarovics, an international trade lawyer
who advises companies about export controls, said
that because Reflex Responses was an Emirati
company it might not need State Department authorization for its activities.
But she said that any Americans working on the
project might run legal risks if they did not get
government approval to participate in training the foreign troops.
Basic operational issues, too, were not
addressed, the former employees said. What were
the battalions rules of engagement? What if
civilians were killed during an operation? And
could a Latin American commando force deployed in
the Middle East really be kept a secret.
The first waves of mercenaries began arriving
last summer. Among them was a 13-year veteran of
Colombias National Police force named Calixto
Rincón, 42, who joined the operation with hopes
of providing for his family and seeing a new part of the world.
We were practically an army for the Emirates,
Mr. Rincón, now back in Bogotá, Colombia, said in
an interview. They wanted people who had a lot
of experience in countries with conflicts, like Colombia.
Mr. Rincóns visa carried a special stamp from
the U.A.E. military intelligence branch, which is
overseeing the entire project, that allowed him
to move through customs and immigration without being questioned.
He soon found himself in the midst of the camps
daily routines, which mirrored those of American
military training. We would get up at 5 a.m. and
we would start physical exercises, Mr. Rincón
said. His assignment included manual labor at the
expanding complex, he said. Other former
employees said the troops outfitted in Emirati
military uniforms were split into companies to
work on basic infantry maneuvers, learn
navigation skills and practice sniper training.
R2 spends roughly $9 million per month
maintaining the battalion, which includes
expenditures for employee salaries, ammunition
and wages for dozens of domestic workers who cook
meals, wash clothes and clean the camp, a former
employee said. Mr. Rincón said that he and his
companions never wanted for anything, and that
their American leaders even arranged to have a
chef travel from Colombia to make traditional soups.
But the secrecy of the project has sometimes
created a prisonlike environment. We didnt have
permission to even look through the door, Mr.
Rincón said. We were only allowed outside for
our morning jog, and all we could see was sand everywhere.
The Emirates wanted the troops to be ready to
deploy just weeks after stepping off the plane,
but it quickly became clear that the Colombians
military skills fell far below expectations.
Some of these kids couldnt hit the broad side
of a barn, said a former employee. Other
recruits admitted to never having fired a weapon.
As a result, the veteran American and foreign
commandos training the battalion have had to
rethink their roles. They had planned to act only
as advisers during missions meaning they
would not fire weapons but over time, they
realized that they would have to fight side by
side with their troops, former officials said.
Making matters worse, the recruitment pipeline
began drying up. Former employees said that Thor
struggled to sign up, and keep, enough men on the
ground. Mr. Rincón developed a hernia and was
forced to return to Colombia, while others were
dismissed from the program for drug use or poor conduct.
And R2s own corporate leadership has also been
in flux. Mr. Chambers, who helped develop the
project, left after several months. A handful of
other top executives, some of them former
Blackwater employees, have been hired, then fired within weeks.
To bolster the force, R2 recruited a platoon of
South African mercenaries, including some
veterans of Executive Outcomes, a South African
company notorious for staging coup attempts or
suppressing rebellions against African strongmen
in the 1990s. The platoon was to function as a
quick-reaction force, American officials and
former employees said, and began training for a
practice mission: a terrorist attack on the Burj
Khalifa skyscraper in Dubai, the worlds tallest
building. They would secure the situation before
quietly handing over control to Emirati troops.
But by last November, the battalion was
officially behind schedule. The original goal was
for the 800-man force to be ready by March 31;
recently, former employees said, the battalions
size was reduced to about 580 men.
Emirati military officials had promised that if
this first battalion was a success, they would
pay for an entire brigade of several thousand
men. The new contracts would be worth billions,
and would help with Mr. Princes next big
project: a desert training complex for foreign
troops patterned after Blackwaters compound in
Moyock, N.C. But before moving ahead, U.A.E.
military officials have insisted that the
battalion prove itself in a real world mission.
That has yet to happen. So far, the Latin
American troops have been taken off the base only
to shop and for occasional entertainment.
On a recent spring night though, after months
stationed in the desert, they boarded an unmarked
bus and were driven to hotels in central Dubai, a
former employee said. There, some R2 executives
had arranged for them to spend the evening with prostitutes.
Mark Mazzetti reported from Abu Dhabi and
Washington, and Emily B. Hager from New York.
Jenny Carolina González and Simon Romero
contributed reporting from Bogotá, Colombia.
Kitty Bennett contributed research from Washington.
Desert Force Set Up by Blackwaters Founder,"
first appeared in The New York Times.
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
More information about the News