Reports surfaced this week that 42 mercenaries working for the US security firm Blackwater had been killed in Yemen. The news came just one week after 15 fighters working for the same company were said to have been killed in clashes in the war-torn country.
Both those reports came from the Iranian Press TV, citing Yemeni news sources.
So, are Blackwater (renamed Academi in 2011) really in Yemen? And if so, what are they doing there?
Blackwater had a controversial role in the Middle East, with their operations in Iraq occasionally making headlines for the wrong reasons. In 2004, four armed Blackwater contracters were killed and their bodies dragged through the street and burned after they were ambushed in Fallujah.
In 2007, four employees were charged and convicted in a US court after 17 Iraqi civilians were killed while the company was escorting an embassy convoy in Baghdad.
The billionaire founder of the company, Erik Prince, sold it in 2010 and reportedly moved to the UAE. It is believed he relocated there due to legal issues back in the US, but there were also rumors that he was overseeing an effort to form a private army of mercenaries.
In 2011, The New York Times obtained documents detailing how an 800-member battalion of foreign fighters was being trained in the UAE with the help of Prince for defensive security operations. Many of these mercenaries were Colombian.
A company called Reflex Responses (R2) reportedly had the contract with the UAE, and Prince does not own or run that company. He did, however, work to oversee the efforts to train and recruit troops. The New York Times reported last month that Prince has left his role in the UAE program several years ago.
Fast forward five years to this month’s reports of “Blackwater” deaths in Yemen.
With all the previous information in mind, it appears evident that “Blackwater” troops did not recently die in Yemen.
The UAE recently deployed hundreds of its mercenaries, many of them Colombian, to fight in Yemen. The New York Times reported that it was the first combat deployment of the private army which Prince helped set up with R2.
So those who were killed were likely members of this large UAE contingent. Press TV may have reported that they were with Blackwater, but given that the company in charge is actually R2, and that Prince allegedly doesn't hold a role there anymore, that is clearly not the case.
This also explains why Blackwater (Academi) did not release a statement regarding the mass loss of life of mercenaries said to be in their ranks. Numbers like those reported this month were never seen in Blackwater casualty reports, which is further evidence that initial speculation about who the mercenaries worked for was innacurate.
By Kane Hippisley-Gatherum