American mercenary boasts of role in ‘targeted assassination program’ in Yemen
The US is supplying weapons, intelligence, and other support to the coalition, but Golan's account, as told to BuzzFeed, reads like something out of a spy thriller.
Golan claims the United Arab Emirates (UAE), part of the coalition, hired his mercenary company, Spear Operations Group, to kill specific enemies, including Anssaf Ali Mayo, leader of the Yemeni political party Al-Islah, which the UAE considers a terrorist group. The Mayo assassination was ultimately unsuccessful - Mayo disappeared from Yemeni politics for a while, and the Spear crew even thought he was dead, but he is currently serving in the Yemeni government, alive and well.
The botched assassination of December 29, 2015 is seen by observers from both sides as the opening salvo in a "targeted campaign," which former UN investigator Gregory Johnsen says eventually took out 25 to 30 members of Al-Islah and other clerics.
Golan claims responsibility for several of the high-profile assassinations in Yemen, though he refuses to share which ones. Not because of remorse – he's a mercenary, after all – but because his business inhabits a legal gray area, and perhaps because he doesn't want his professional secrets getting out. Golan is trying to sell his business model to the US military.
Experts have cast doubt on the idea that the US, which essentially armed and trained the UAE's military from the ground up, didn't know the UAE had hired Americans to conduct assassinations in a war in which the US is deeply involved. The CIA claimed ignorance of the matter, but one agency official – after categorically denying the government would allow such a thing – confirmed the story, himself shocked that American mercenaries had been allowed to operate "almost like a murder squad."
The US does enjoy a privileged place within UAE military circles, having sold the Arab nation $27 billion in arms and defense services since 2009. While the US theoretically bars mercenaries from participating in combat, it hires them to do everything else in the military, and one man's security detail is another man's firefight.
Private contractors are supposed to be regulated by the State Department, which claims it has never permitted mercenaries to work for another government, and US law forbids any who would "conspire to kill, kidnap, [or] maim" a foreign citizen. But the publication cites multiple sources who claim Spear mercenaries were given military rank by the UAE, providing them legal cover for their actions (US citizens are allowed to serve in foreign militaries, with some exceptions).
BuzzFeed was admittedly unable to verify much of Golan's biography, which allegedly includes a stint in the French Foreign Legion and friendships with notorious figures like former Mossad head Danny Yatom and Serbian militant Arkan. A CIA acquaintance calls him "prone to exaggeration." The details of his story – "target cards" handed out with names, photographs, even phone numbers; a Jolly-Roger-esque company flag – are Hollywoodesque.
Golan supposedly offered the UAE his company's services as targeted assassins, explicitly tasked to "disrupt and destruct" Al-Islah. On top of $1.5 million a month, they would receive kill bonuses and train UAE soldiers. He claims to have declined missions targeting individuals outside the party, but those claims are unverified, and his partner admits that some targets may have simply been enemies of the UAE's ruling family.
However much truth there may be to Golan's tale, it illuminates the consequences of War on Terror mission creep – an overabundance of highly-trained special forces, lax oversight regarding war crimes and international law, an increasingly privatized fighting force, and the notion that enemy combatants are anyone a government deems them to be mean Spear's business model could strike US commanders' fancy after all.
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