Erik Prince, the embattled founder of Blackwater — the American private military contractor accused of various shady dealings in the Iraq war — has a new army. After selling Blackwater (since renamed Xe Services), he’s continued his work as a private military consultant, assembling mercenaries for whomever has the cash.
Most recently, according to a lengthy report by The New York Times, Prince has been tasked with assembling an 800-member battalion of a private army for the leaders of Abu Dhabi, whose main function would be counter-terrorism and putting down internal revolts. To this end, Prince and a group of advisers composed of American and British retired combat officers, recently assembled a group of Colombian mercenaries at a desert compound in the Emirate.
According to the Times, while the Colombian soldiers were expected to be ready for deployment within a few weeks of their arrival, it soon became clear that they were far from prepared, some of them having never fired weapons before. Notable, however, was the reason for assembling an army of Spanish-speaking mercenaries (as well as South Africans, British and Americans) in an Arab country. Says the Times, “Former employees said that in recruiting the Colombians and others from halfway around the world, Mr. Prince’s subordinates were following his strict rule: hire no Muslims. Muslim soldiers, Mr. Prince warned, could not be counted on to kill fellow Muslims.”
Of course, mercenary armies are nothing new–from medieval times to the most recent war in Iraq–but this latest revelation sets a disturbing precedent for the area. Like prisons and schools, outsourcing military tasks to the private sector raises a lot of issues of whose best interests are at stake. In Abu Dhabi, the mercenaries would be commanded by that emirate’s ruler, but they would be motivated strictly by a paycheck (and a modest one, according to the Times). No one should be allowed to profit from war, least of all those, like Erik Prince, whose ethics have been repeatedly cast into doubt.