The BBC’s security correspondent, Frank Gardner, has a feature on the little-known role being played by troops from the United Arab Emirates in Afghanistan.
Troops from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have been delivering humanitarian aid to their fellow Muslims and, on occasion, fighting their way out of Taleban ambushes. Though Jordanian forces have been carrying out some base security duties, the UAE’s troops are the only Arab soldiers undertaking full-scale operations in the country. Until now, their deployment has been kept so secret that not even their own countrymen knew they were here.
I asked Maj Ghanem whether he was worried about how some people in the Arab world might react to this.
“We have an answer for that. Even if you are asking back in the UAE or in the Gulf, or you asking here, we have the same answer,” he said. “We make a contract with the US Army to help the people down here, not to fight”.
But I put it to him that in fact his troops have been fighting insurgents as well as handing out aid.
“If we have any types of personal attacks we react with fire. And after that we go to the elders in this area: ‘Why are you shooting us? We came here to help you.
“‘If you have the same picture of all coalition forces, we are different. We came here to help you.’
“And we try to convince the people about the US, about British. They came here to give you peace.”
The portrait painted is a positive one, with the only negative point made being that what the Emiratis are achieving is unlikely to make a significant difference unless it is more widely emulated by other forces in-country:
These are hearts-and-minds operations at their most effective – drinking tea with Afghans, discussing what help can be provided. The Emirati approach is to meet their fellow Muslims’ religious needs first, then build schools and clinics later. But for this to have a wider, lasting, and national effect, the blueprint would need to be repeated and expanded by others, many times over and throughout Afghanistan. And that is not likely to happen in the near future.
There is no doubt that the reported role being played by the Emiratis is beneficial, but the implication that it should provide a template for NATO forces is overly simplistic. Furthermore, as Joshua Foust points out on Registan.net:
Of course, the very salient fact that UAE was one of the only countries to have recognized the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan, and to have funded many of their brutal campaigns throughout the 90s, is left unsaid.
Read the BBC piece here.