In March 2010, a coalition of Arab powers in the Saudi Gulf was formed to combat the rising threat of the Iranian led Houthi insurgents operating in Yemen. The United Arab Emirates (UAE), a member country to the coalition, has responded through a strategy that calls for building an armed force with the use of foreign soldiers.
Since the beginning of the insurgency in 2010, the UAE has embarked on an intensive program to make its armed forces better organized and more effective to engage the insurgency. To do this, they have sought the assistance of foreign military professionals and undergone an intensive recruiting program that has spanned the globe.
More than 10,000 coalition troops have been sent to Yemen. The best trained and equipped coalition troops are likely to be those from the UAE Presidential Guard, which was the only Arab force to undertake full military operations in Afghanistan, where they fought alongside American soldiers.
The UAE’s Presidential Guard was formed in early 2010. It is a unit of marines, reconnaissance, aviation, Special Forces and mechanized brigades. Founding and overseeing the development of this elite force has been former Australian army general Mike Hindmarsh, who had a distinguished career in the Australian army.
Former major-general Mike Hindmarsh, AUSTRALIA'S top special forces general, was recruited by the UAE. The ex-Special Operations Command and SAS chief has moved to Abu Dhabi to work as national security adviser to the United Arab Emirates (Heraldsun.com.)
Hindmarsh served in his country’s military between 1976 and 2009, during which time he received 11 awards and took part in tours that included deployments to the Middle East. After first heading up the Australian SAS, between January 1997 and January 1999, he moved on to command Australian Special Forces between October 2004 and January 2008, before leading Australian forces in the Middle East from March 2008 until January 2009. Hindmarsh was based in Baghdad and oversaw the moving of Australia’s regional base to the UAE after their withdrawal from Iraq. (MiddleEastEye.net)
Mr Hindmarsh reports to Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces. His recruitment into the UAE military has not been done outside of Australian authority. The top-secret appointment was made after months of negotiations and was cleared by defense chief Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston and the Federal Government. (heraldsun.com)
The UAE has only built on the principle of bringing in experience to develop the Presidential Guard, as the ranks of the unit are lined with experienced soldiers mainly from Australia who occupy senior roles in the elite force. A few examples are: Dizzy Dawson, a former manager at the UK’s Ministry of Defense and an ex-Royal Marine officer is a senior security adviser to the guard; and American Robert B Cross Sr headed up the UAE Presidential Guard Institute as part of the US Marine Corps training programme are just a few (MiddleEastEye.net)
Dozens of ex-Australian soldiers work for the UAE military in leadership, training and mentoring roles, developing links between the two armed forces (heraldsun.com). Neither has the roles of these soldiers been relegated solely to administration and training. In 2015, it was reported that former Australian soldier, Philip Stitman, had been killed while on patrol in Yemen.
Australia has not been the only country the UAE has recruited from to fill its military commitments. Alongside Stitmen, local media reports have six Colombian soldiers under the Australian’s command had also been killed. They were reportedly advancing towards the al-Amri area in the heavily contested Taiz province, in Yemen’s south-west (theguardian.com). In addition to Australians, the UAE has turned to South America, largely Colombia to find soldiers to augment their own military.
Emirates has quietly built up an army in the desert over the past several years. This army arrived in Yemen consisting of 450 Latin American troops — among them are also Panamanian, Salvadoran and Chilean soldiers. The Colombian troops now in Yemen have been handpicked from a brigade of some 1,800 Latin American soldiers that have been training at an Emirati military base. Emirati officials have made a point of recruiting Colombian troops over other Latin American soldiers, because they consider the Colombians more battle tested in guerrilla warfare, having spent decades battling gunmen of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, in the jungles of Colombia.
The presence of the Latin American troops is an official secret in the Emirates, and the government has made no public mention of their deployment to Yemen. The Latin American force in the Emirates was originally conceived to carry out mostly domestic missions — guarding pipelines and other sensitive infrastructure and possibly putting down riots in the sprawling camps housing foreign workers (nytimes.com). This program has come under scrutiny from the outside world.
Many countries remain suspicious that the private military company Blackwater and its founder Erik Prince has been contracted to facilitate the recruitment and organization of these foreign units. Current reports place the price of this deal at $529 million dollars. Other concerns are over the long-term strategy these foreign soldiers are intended to be used for. Beyond incursions into Yemen, foreign units have been set up for roles within the UAE’s own borders. These roles extend to protecting against domestic threats and defending essential infrastructure that could become a terrorist target.
The UAE’s reliance on foreign soldiers to perform security and meet military obligations abroad is itself driven by the complications of having a tiny country. The domestic population of the UAE is so small that it relies heavily on a large influx of foreign labor from neighboring countries. This means that on its own the country doesn’t have the population to field an army or run the country’s economy on its own. It also assumes the fear of instability from having such a large expatriate community that hails from countries with radical insurrections and instability. It creates the need to rely on foreign professionals to fill the military role (youtube.com).
This is a conclusion that other countries are gradually coming to as well. In worlds where a culture of instability has a long history, foreign soldiers will be an essential component for governments trying to combat insurgencies. For traditionally impoverished regions of the world with long histories of continued insurgent warfare, such as South and Central America, the exporting of veteran soldiers will be a lucrative industry.
The UAE demonstrates that the use of hired soldiers, either through direct recruitment or through the services of PMCs is going to become more of a standard practice as more countries find themselves dealing with volatility within their regions. At the same time, major powers, such as the United States, become more conservative in their use of military force around the world. The question of hired foreign soldiers becomes one of greater strategic necessity.
Mercenaries in general have received a negative image over the years. They have, however, played an essential role for less developed or smaller countries to meet impending threats. In all likelihood, the role of private contractors or hired professional soldiers is only going to increase in today’s modern geo-political landscape.
The United States should embrace this as an alternative means to government military force. Following the long conflicts in both Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. and many of our allies were both economically and morally exhausted. In the fight against ISIS or some other global threat, western powers find themselves at odds ─ wanting to confront such threats and neutralize them against a populace that is tired of military adventurism.
The idea of allowing independent volunteers to offer services for stand up units, or let private military companies assume the role should be an issue to consider. Inevitably, constant military use is going to be draining on larger powers that can’t keep responding to global hotspots. However, at a time of continued nation-state instability throughout the world, some alternative means of military response has to be developed.
(Note: I found the two blue, bolded links particularly interesting and/or helpful)