The crown prince of Saudi Arabia has been making headlines lately for allegedly sending a 15-men murder squad to kill his critic and a prominent journalist, Jamal Khashoggi. Its gulf ally, the United Arab Emirates did something similar, but a long time back and even managed to keep it out of everyone’s sight, until recently. The UAE royal, Mohammed bin Zayed hired US veterans to assassinate political targets and waged a proxy war in Yemen, that killed thousands. The Saudis are being subjected to global criticism immediately after they killed Khashoggi, while the UAE silently accomplished its mission in Yemen and even got away with it. Following is a disclosure of clandestine details of UAE’s outsourced military mission in Yemen against its political enemies – Al-Islah – an Islamist political party, one of whose members won the Nobel Peace Prize.
Mercenaries or Murder Squad?
Ex-US marines, soldiers and CIA veterans served as UAE hired mercenaries to assassinate the gulf nation’s political targets in Yemen, Al-Islah leader and members, in particular. A Buzzfeed investigation exposed the inside details about Spear Operations Group, the company that hired ex-US soldiers to serve the UAE royal, MbZ or Mohammed bin Zayed.
Why would elite US special operations fighters want to assassinate unidentified individuals, only based on the fact that a UAE royal prince wanted them dead? Former defense contractors put it as an “exciting” and relatively “better paying job” than serving in the private security sector of the US.
Abraham Golan, a Hungarian Israeli security contractor founded the Spear Group that paid $830 a day to each of its soldiers, plus bonuses on special victories. Golan led the team’s attack against Anssaf Ali Mayo, leader of the Islamist political party Al-Islah, believed to be the Yemeni branch of Muslim Brotherhood. The UAE recognizes Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization thus, automatically putting Al-Islah on the same rank. Accompanying Abraham Golan was Isaac Gilmore, a former US Navy SEAL who had resigned services soon after he accidentally shot a fellow SEAL during a drill.
Abraham Golan and Gilmore were put on the mission by Mohammed Dahlan, an ex-security chief for the Palestinian Authority and the current advisor to the UAE royal, Mohammed bin Zayed. Dahlan was seen as an upcoming leader of the Palestine Authority until his closeness to the CIA and Israelis became a reason for him being disowned by his own country in the name of ‘corruption’. Later, the UAE sheltered Dahlan, where he became close to Mohammed bin Zayed, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, and rebuilt himself as the prince’s advisor.
As soon as the mission began, the mercenaries got 23 cards, containing identities of 23 individuals with rudimentary information like their picture, name, color of car they used, etc. Surprisingly, none of the cards described them as ‘terrorists’ or highlighted any ‘terrorist activity’ they committed in the past. Nevertheless, the UAE royal, Mohammed bin Zayed wanted them dead, and Abraham Golan agreed. Even if the mercenaries did kill a civilian instead of a terrorist, the ‘self-modulated US law’ bound no soldier to any consequences, no matter what.
The operation led by Abraham Golan against Mayo was reported at the time of occurrence, but the fact that US mercenaries carried it out, remained under covers for a long time. The mission is said to have marked an essential point in the Yemen war, a brutal conflict that saw children die of curable diseases, starvation and bombing targeted at civilian areas. The shrapnel loaded bomb affixed on the Al-Islah party office building was said to be the first of its series of other unsolved attacks that resulted in the deaths of more than 24 of the group’s leaders.
The US defense companies service ex-army and navy veterans to the gulf monarchy for large sums of paychecks. The business isn’t new to the US Department of Defense, which has, since 2009 approved $27 billion worth of arms export and defense services to the UAE.
Even though the UAE leads an alliance with Saudi Arabia in Yemen, only the latter is surrounded by criticism for the damage they both did to the poorest Arab nation in the proxy war. The UAE had accomplished way more rogue missions in Yemen with the US helping both the gulf nations through intelligence, weapons and other support. Hence, there was no way the US didn’t know of American veterans being hired as mercenaries by the UAE royal, Mohammed bin Zayed, for carrying out targeted political assassinations in Yemen.
According to an ex-CIA official, who initially worked with in the UAE, Americans wouldn’t be allowed to take part in such programs. Under US law, it is prohibited to “conspire to kill, maim, kidnap” someone in a foreign nation, which was exactly what the Spear Group mercenaries were being paid for. On the other hand, military services like ‘provision of mercenaries’ can only be processed through the State Department that has apparently ‘never’ permitted any company to supply combat troops to other nations. There was no vetting procedure, used or possible, to check whether the person a mercenary kills, is really even a ‘bad guy’ or just someone who shared bitter relations with the UAE royal, Mohammed bin Zayed. All in all, the UAE had hired a murder squad for $1.5 million a month, a price that excited most US veterans.
Manipulated Paid Assassination Over Legalities
Despite it being illegal for a US national to kill/maim/kidnap somebody in a foreign nation, the government hadn’t ‘banned’ the practice of servicing mercenaries officially. As a result, with some modulations it was absolutely legal for a US soldier to serve in another nation’s military, whether in the pursuit of money or idealism. The Spear Group clearly did so, and conveniently manipulated the law as per their convenience to seek financial gains from the rich gulf monarchy. Despite everything, the team failed pathetically in their pilot project, proving all the intelligence and strategy unworthy as reportedly, Mayo had left the building 10 minutes before the bombs went off. Nevertheless, the Yemen mission still continued.
Abraham Golan anyway interpreted his team’s targeted assassination as a ‘counter-terrorism’ strategy with fewer collateral damage. However, the Mayo assassination was not only flawed, but also potentially put in danger the life of more than just one person. A bomb was way too much for a targeted assassination of a particular “terrorist”. And because the mercenaries were operating outside US’ chain of command, there was no accountability for the killings they did, mistakes or war crimes committed. The targets were decided secretively by a monarchy – UAE – with the full involvement of a democracy – US. Thus, who dies, who lives, who kills or who doesn’t, made no difference. Abraham Golan, the team’s lead argued that Spear Group’s targets were not just random political enemies of the Emirates, but legitimate terrorists because they were named so by a government, which is an ally of the US. Therefore, as per Golan, everything that the mercenaries were doing was in the interest of the US government, which doesn’t make his team a murder squad.
By 2016, observers and subject matter experts following the rapidly deteriorating conditions in Yemen pointed out that Al-Islah members were dying at a quick pace. Even though the first, pivotal project run by the Spear Group failed to kill Mayo, it did holler the fact that Al-Islah had become a target now.