As told to the Spanish newspaper, ABC, by Qatari Prime Minister Abdullah bin Hamad Al-Attiyah, thousands of mercenaries from the American company Academi (previously known as Blackwater), were trained in the United Arab Emirates pending a possible invasion of Qatar during the period of highest tension between Doha and the other Arab countries. According to the Qatari politician, the UAE troops’ failed invasion was caused exclusively by the United States’ failure to approve it. The U.S. halted everything in order to stop a new war from breaking out in the Persian Gulf. The reasons are clear, mainly because of Qatar’s strategic importance with respect to the United States’ power projection in the world: The U.S. depends on Doha for its critical military base in the emirate’s territory. To ignite an internal crisis in an Arab monarchy would mean endangering the already fragile structure of U.S. alliances in the Arab world. It would jeopardize (again) the entire Middle East by involving regional powers in the conflict, with Turkey and Iran backing Qatar.

Revisiting the fact that the Academi mercenaries were ready to invade Qatar on the Emirates’ payroll shows us two things: the importance of the United Arab Emirates in the Arab bloc against Doha and their willingness to overthrow the emirate, but most importantly the growing relevance of mercenaries or contractors in contemporary warfare. First, over time, the government in Abu Dhabi has built a very strong military capable of competing with all regional rivals. “Little Sparta,” as the Emirates have been called because of their intense militarization in recent years, had and still has every interest in overthrowing the establishment in Qatar, its greatest rival along with Saudi Arabia for its economic and political leadership on the Arabian Peninsula. The UAE’s interests conflict with Qatar’s in many areas, from airline companies, to sports, to financial and commercial interests, as well as in the political sphere of the entire Middle East theater. That being said, starting a war inevitably required U.S. approval, which was not given.

On the topic of using Blackwater contractors (now Academi contractors), it’s important to remember that the American company is already working for the United Arab Emirates on its front in Yemen. For this precise reason, many sources are talking about thousands of contractors being trained – possibly even 15,000 – on the Emirati military base in Liwa, specifically to be used in the war in Yemen. Back in 2015, The New York Times revealed that the UAE had secretly sent at least 400 Colombian mercenaries from what was then Blackwater to Yemen. In time, Yemen has continued to use their services, bringing men to war from Colombia, Sudan, South Africa and other countries, mostly trained by the Americans, British and French. In recent months, Academi contractors have suffered numerous losses in the war in Yemen, losses that are more or less official and which have forced the organization to review its plans. The government of Abu Dhabi, aware of the difficulties encountered in the war seems to have therefore decided to stop sending mercenary forces into war against the Houthi rebels, and instead overthrow the government of Qatar.

The news that thousands of mercenaries were being trained to invade Qatar shows how essential these contractor companies are becoming in contemporary warfare. The Gulf monarchies, thanks to their enormous reserves of money, use them to make up for their shortage of men given their small populations, and to recruit people who are well-trained and ready to go to war immediately. But lately, they have grown to be important for far larger armies, such as those in Russia and the United States. Months ago, the Kremlin sent thousands of contractors to Syria to supervise the de-escalation zones, particularly in the south of the country. The Syrian-Israeli border is also guarded by mercenaries from the Caucasus regions, paid for by Moscow. On the U.S. front, Academi is taking a leading role. President Donald Trump has even thought of sending mercenaries, rather than U.S. soldiers, to strengthen the contingent in Afghanistan. And confirmation of Academi’s growing importance can all be summarized by the portrait of its founder: Erik Prince. The creator of Blackwater is not only the brother of Trump’s secretary of education, Betsy DeVos, but is also running for a Senate seat in the state of Wyoming.