UAE defends use of contractors to beef up military

The United Arab Emirates on Monday defended the use of foreign military contractors, including one tied to Blackwater's founder, saying the deals are legal and help it develop a strong armed force.

Foreign companies aid the Emirati military through planning, training and operational support, said Gen. Juma Ali Khalaf al-Hamiri, a senior Emirati military official. The comments were in response to a New York Times report saying that the UAE hired Erik Prince, the founder of the company formerly known as Blackwater, to build a standing force of 800 foreign troops.

The Gulf federation, an important Arab ally of the United States, currently has agreements with a number of "third parties" that assist its armed forces, al-Hamiri said.

He confirmed that one of the contractors is Reflex Responses, or R2, a company the Times reported was set up by Prince. Other firms employed by the Emirates include companies called Spectre and Horizon, which he said provide training services.

"As you would expect of a proactive member of the international community, all engagements of commercial entities by the UAE Armed Forces are compliant with international law and relevant conventions," al-Hamiri said in a statement carried on state news agency WAM.

Prince could not be located for comment.

Al-Hamiri said contractors have supported the Emirati military in training Iraqi and Afghani security forces, and "have been integral to the successful development of what is a robust military capability of over 40,000 Emirati personnel at a high state of readiness."

Security personnel guarding U.S. diplomats and employed by North Carolina-based Blackwater were involved in an infamous Baghdad square shooting in 2007 that left 17 Iraqis dead. Prince is no longer involved in the firm, now known as Xe Services. He moved to the Emirati capital Abu Dhabi last year.

The Associated Press reported in January that Prince was involved in a multimillion-dollar program to train troops to fight pirates in Somalia. That program was financed by several Arab countries, including the United Arab Emirates, according to a person familiar with the project and an intelligence report seen by the AP.