The US state department said on Sunday that it was examining the legality of an American-led private army that is being established in the United Arab Emirates.
Erik Prince, the founder of Blackwater private security company, is establishing a counter-terrorism force of up to 800 foreign mercenaries in Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates, The New York Times reported on Sunday.
Mr Prince has been hired by Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, to recruit an American-led force of mainly South American former soldiers, through a company called R2, with a view to countering a perceived threat from Iran and bolstering domestic security, the report said.
“The department is aware of the R2 venture and is currently looking into it to make sure there are no potential International Traffic in Arms Regulations concerns,” a state department spokesman confirmed on Sunday. The regulations govern the sale of defence services as well as defence equipment.
Members of the new force have been trained since last summer by former special forces soldiers from the US, South Africa and European countries in a camp outside Abu Dhabi, the newspaper said.
Still, it is not clear whether the project has the United States’ official blessing. Legal experts and government officials said some of those involved with the battalion might be breaking federal laws that prohibit American citizens from training foreign troops if they did not secure a license from the State Department.
Mark C. Toner, a spokesman for the department, would not confirm whether Mr. Prince’s company had obtained such a license, but he said the department was investigating to see if the training effort was in violation of American laws. Mr. Toner pointed out that Blackwater (which renamed itself Xe Services ) paid $42 million in fines last year for training foreign troops in Jordan and other countries over the years.