March 22, 2019
Mohammed bin Zayed, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, proposed to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to set up a covert program to assassinate Taliban leaders, a report says.
He made the offer on January 12 during a meeting with Pompeo in the UAE capital amid disagreements between the two over peace talks between the Taliban and the US, London-based Middle East Eye reported Thursday.
Bin Zayed warned Pompeo that US pullout of troops from Afghanistan risked a regression to 2001, prior to the US invasion, the online portal cited an unknown source with detailed knowledge of the meeting as saying.
Washington hopes a negotiated deal with the Taliban could allow it to start withdrawing some of its 14,000 troops still in the war-wracked country before the end of the year.
Bin Zayed said the pullout risked allowing Afghanistan to fall back into the hands of the “backward, bearded bad guys” and proposed hiring mercenaries to kill Taliban leaders to weaken the group’s negotiating position.
The prince suggested that organizing and funding a “Blackwater-style” operation to “wage an assassination campaign against the first-line leadership of the Taliban” can give the US the upper hand in the talks, the source said.
Blackwater, founded in 1997, received hundreds of millions of dollars in US government contracts during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The company found notoriety for its wanton killing of civilians in broad daylight, including 14 unarmed people in a famous Baghdad square in 2007.
Blackwater was founded by Erik Prince which was hired by the CIA in 2004 to run covert operations in different parts of the world.
Bin Zayed later hired Prince to build a mercenary army in the UAE to confront potential worker or pro-democracy uprisings inside the Persian Gulf country.
In 2011, the New York Times reported that an 800-member battalion of foreign troops was brought into the UAE.
In 2015, when Saudi Arabia launched aggression against Yemen, the UAE government decided to send hundreds of its mercenaries to fight for Saudi Arabia in the impoverished Arab country.
They also had a mission to run an assassination program against leaders of the Yemeni Congregation for Reform, frequently called al-Islah, and advance its policies in Yemen.
In October last year, Abraham Golan, a Hungarian-Israeli security contractor, revealed details about the assassination program to Buzzfeed.
The UAE had reportedly hired former special forces to carry out the missions. “I was running it. We did it. It was sanctioned by the UAE within the coalition,” Golan said.
Al-Islah said in August last year that nine of its leaders had been murdered since 2015. They are among at least 27 clerics killed, often in drive-by shootings, in the southern city of Aden and surrounding areas by unidentified gunmen in the same period.
The UAE government has publicly supported US peace talks with the Taliban. It hosted a two-day “reconciliation conference” in December, with Saudi and Pakistani officials also in attendance.
Subsequent rounds of negotiations were moved to Qatar’s capital, Doha, at the insistence of the Taliban, which have maintained a political office there since 2013.
The source said the move by the Taliban had irked the UAE crown prince.
The source said that US President Donald Trump’s December announcement to withdraw all 2,000 troops from Syria also infuriated the UAE crown prince.
“You are leaving Syria to be under Iranian and Turkish influence and that will bring everyone back. They will act against your acts and our interests,” he reportedly told the US secretary of state.
The crown prince said if the US changed its mind, the United Arab Emirates would be prepared to fund the cost of keeping US troops in Syria from its own budget, the report added.
On Monday, the Wall Street Journal, citing American officials, said Washington planned to keep about 1,000 troops in Syria.
US Joint Chiefs Chairman General Joseph Dunford rejected the report as “factually incorrect,” stressing that there was no change to the planned 400 troops which the White House wanted to keep in Syria.