The United Arab Emirates is seeking to enlist 3,000 Colombian soldiers in the oil-rich Arab country’s armed forces, weekly Semana reported Sunday.
According to the weekly, 842 Colombian soldiers and retired soldiers have already joined the UAE army which is paying salaries up to ten times what the Colombian state pays the members of its armed forces.
The transfer of soldiers to the foreign army is causing unease among Colombia’s military commanders because the military fears the higher salaries abroad are draining the army of its best men and women.
“They have recruited soldiers with a lot of combat experience, valuable men with years of service in which the Army invested a lot in terms of training,” an anonymous general told Semana.
“Without a doubt, this is a loss for the army, but there isn’t much we can do because it is by no means illegal,” the military official added.
According to the weekly, the Colombians are making in between $2,800 and $18,000 in the UAE depending on the rank. In Colombia, a soldier earns $530 a month on average.
The New York Times reported in May 2011 that the UAE hired Colombian soldiers as mercenaries through a company led by Erik Prince, the founder of controversial private security company Blackwater.
According to a Colombian former colonel — now in charge of recruiting compatriots for the UAE Army — the 800 Colombians currently active in the Arab peninsula are not part of a mercenary army, but hired directly by the armed forces.
“What is happening now is different than before. We are no mercenaries. The contract of the people who travel is directly with the government of the [United] Arab Emirates,” the anonymous colonel said.
The Colombian ex-official said the UAE are investing in their military defense because the government “noticed that several threats have made them vulnerable.”
According to the former colonel, the Colombians’ responsibilities “range from urban defense against terrorist attacks to the control of civil uprisings and even be prepared for a possible border conflict with Iran.”
The United Arab Emirates is one of the few countries in the Middle East that has not been affected by the “Arab spring,” a wave of revolutionary social unrest that forced four rulers in the region from power.