David Isenberg, Military Analyst - author,

David Isenberg, Military Analyst
author, "Shadow Force: Private Security Contractors in Iraq"
Saudis and Emeratis are bombing Yemen from the air, but who’s fighting on the ground?



Earlier this month in Yemen, a plane from the Saudi Arabian-United Arab Emerati Air Force dropped a bomb on a bus full of school kids and killed at least 44 of them.

3 questions being asked about this mass murder of children are — was the deadly bomb made in America, was the bomber getting American targeting intelligence, and was the plane refueled in flight on this mission by an American tanker?  The Pentagon says the answer to all 3 is, we don’t know.

Pentagon officials do know that Saudi and Emerati forces bombing and fighting in Yemen do have a lot of American equipment, but they claim no knowledge of how it is being used.  And the same goes for the intelligence we give the Sunni invaders of Yemen. Pentagon officials told the NY Times, “they are not involved in picking targets and do not know the missions of the coalition warplanes that the United States refuels.”

But one American who, the NY Times reported, made 5 trips to Saudi Arabia in 2015 and 2016 “to help the Saudi air force improve its targeting procedures,” said, “The Saudis aren’t learning.  They’re making the same mistakes they’ve been making all along. And we are … letting them get away with it.”

If the American military role in the Gulf States invasion of Yemen has been officially passive, there are Americans actively involved.  One example: Stephen Toumajan, who retired from the US Army in 2007 after 20 years of service, and Buzzfeed has reported, is a major general for the Emirati military.  He’s in charge of Military Aviation, meaning helicopters, and at least one of his units has been accused of similarly irresponsible targeting, producing large numbers of avoidable casualties.

How did a former US Army Lt. Col. Become an Emerati Major General?  Chances are it had something to do with Eric Prince, the founder of the Blackwater Private Military Contracting group.  Prince has been the prime contractor for the establishment and radical up-scaling of the UAE military forces.  It’s been reported he has supplied hundreds of fighters for the ground forces now in Yemen.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE don’t have the people power necessary to populate their national armies.  Plus, there’s the political danger of using your own people as cannon fodder.  So, their easy solution has been to fill the boots on the ground with foreign mercenaries, and, sic them on Yemen.

The result has been a disaster.  Bombing has left Yemen badly damaged, sick and starving, but it hasn’t gotten the Saudi or their puppet Yemeni President control of the ground.  And as for the ground forces, their casualty count has been high, their battlefield record, mixed at best.  But few in Saudi Arabia or the Emirates mourn their loss.

It is reported that putting private military forces into the briar patch that is Syria appeals to President Donald Trump, who counts Eric Prince as a friend, and made his sister Betsy DeVos his Secretary of Education.  Not that Trump would necessarily steer the mercenary management contract for Syria to Prince.  He’s got two other big campaign funders, Steven Feinberg of Dyncorp and the disgraced influence peddler Elliot Broidy of Circinus, who would love to get the job.

America gets to hand off the job of “stabilizing” northeast Syria, and the Saudis and Emeratis will pay for the mercenaries who will take it over.  No US government responsibility; no American soldiers involved.  No muss; no fuss.

You know who else is getting to like this formula? Vladimir Putin.  Of course, his version of the private military contractor business is different.


reading room

David Isenberg is an independent researcher and writer on U.S. military, foreign policy, and national and international security issues. He a senior analyst with the online geopolitical consultancy Wikistrat and is a U.S. Navy veteran. He is the author of Shadow Force: Private Security Contractors in Iraq. His blog, The PMSC Observer, focuses on private military and security contracting, a subject he has testified on to Congress.

















Subscribe to insider notes from Dave Marash along with previews and cartoons of upcoming podcasts. You’ll be richer, taller, and if you don’t eat, thinner.


Here & There is kept afloat by wonderful sponsors and curious listeners like you. Your support is appreciated!