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UAE to form Emirati foreign legion with 3,000 recruits to boost military capabilities in Yemen, Somalia

Saturday March 16, 2024

FILE - Three armed mercenaries from private military company Spear Operations Group are seen on a mission in Yemen. The unit hired by the United Arab Emirates, is said to be responsible for political assasinations. CREDIT: Grey Dynamics

Mogadishu (HOL) - The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is reportedly constructing a new elite military unit reminiscent of the French Foreign Legion. According to global defence analysts Intelligence Online, the force will comprise at least 3,000 foreign recruits and aim to bolster the Emirates' military capabilities. A former French special forces officer is leading the initiative, and recruitment is scheduled between mid-2024 and 2025.

The recruitment process, managed by an Abu Dhabi company, promises well-paid jobs to young men and signifies a notable shift in the UAE's defence strategy. This new force, dubbed the Emirati Foreign Legion, will reportedly be deployed in Yemen and Somalia, where the UAE has vested interests but faces considerable security challenges. 

The UAE's engagement in East Africa, particularly through military and economic means, has been a cornerstone of its foreign policy. The Emirates' involvement has ranged from training Somali soldiers to establishing military bases and engaging in extensive humanitarian and infrastructure projects. Analysts say the plans align with the UAE's broader goal of projecting power and countering threats across the region, particularly from Iran-aligned groups like the Houthi movement in Yemen and terrorist factions such as Al Shabaab in Somalia.

The UAE's presence and actions in the region have sparked controversy. Its military operations and alliances, particularly those supporting non-state actors and engaging in regional politics, have sometimes been at odds with the interests of traditional allies and local sovereignty. 

The UAE has come under fire recently for its support of the Sudanese paramilitary group, the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), in its war against the Sudanese army. The UAE has vehemently denied that it is arming the group despite a leaked UN report that said it had "credible" evidence that the Gulf country was providing military support "several times per week" via Amdjarass in northern Chad.

Establishing the Emirati Foreign Legion also raises questions about the evolving nature of international military cooperation and private military contracting. The UAE government's recruitment of foreign soldiers directly for an indefinite period introduces new dynamics into international defence relationships and mercenary practices.

By operating in the shadows, bypassing conventional military channels, and employing foreign nationals under largely obscured conditions, the UAE is forging a new path that might redefine the boundaries between national armies and private military forces. 

The latest initiative is set against a backdrop of previously rorted clandestine activities, as evidenced by the UAE and Egypt's alleged secret recruitment and training of nearly 3,000 young Somali men in November 2022. The secretive nature of these recruitment drives, coupled with the lack of transparency and accountability, raises significant ethical and legal concerns.

Somalia's newfound military cooperation with Turkey will also represent a paradigm shift in regional alliances and directly challenge the UAE's strategic ambitions. The Somalia-Turkey defence agreement, ratified swiftly by Mogadishu, grants Turkey significant military leverage in the region, undermining the UAE's previous efforts and investments. This agreement, coupled with Ethiopia's engagement with the breakaway Somaliland state, has recalibrated the balance of power, prompting the UAE to reassess its strategy in the Horn of Africa.

The United Arab Emirates has a record of employing foreign military expertise for its defence and security operations. In 2011, the UAE collaborated with Erik Prince, the controversial founder of Blackwater, to establish a battalion called Reflex Responses, or R2, comprising 800 foreign soldiers. This unit was primarily tasked with internal security, executing special operations, and safeguarding vital assets, such as oil pipelines and high-rise buildings. Prince expanded his role by forming an elite military force under Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed. This force marked the UAE's initial foray into foreign military engagements, participating in conflicts in Syria and Yemen.

Additionally, Prince and a former South African special forces officer named Lafras Luitingh would go on to create the Puntland Maritime Police Force with funding from the UAE before the New York Times exposed Prince's involvement, leading the Emiratis to shut down the Reflex Responses program.

Reactions to this development have been mixed. France, witnessing its former military personnel spearhead this new unit alongside the global defence community, is watching closely. The French Minister of the Armed Forces, Sébastien Lecornu, and the Defence Intelligence and Security Directorate (DRSD) are reportedly investigating the matter, highlighting potential concerns about the implications of this move for regional security and international norms.

An excerpt from the UAE recruitment page obtained by Intelligence Online


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