Outsourcing honour, offshoring duty: Top Emirati air force commander revealed as US 'mercenary'

Outsourcing honour, offshoring duty: Top Emirati air force commander revealed as US 'mercenary'
3 min read
08 May, 2018
Boom and bust: A UAE commander has been revealed as former US military officer and breast enhancement salesman Stephen Toumajan.
Stephen Toumajan, an American citizen commanding UAE military units. Note flag insignia and epaulettes [JAC/Twitter]
A top commander in the Emirati army, currently fighting a devastating war in Yemen, has been revealed to be none other than Stephen Toumajan, a former US military officer .

Although Toumajan left the US army with the rank of lieutenant colonel, the Emiratis appear to have bestowed on him the rank of major general.

The revelations came on Monday in an explosive report by BuzzFeed that further corroborates reports the Emiratis are paying foreign contractors - essentially mercenaries - for combat operations from Yemen to Libya, though Toumajan denied he is involved in the war in Yemen.

According to the report, Toumajan, a colourful character, had run a breast enhancement business in Tennessee for a brief period before relocating to Abu Dhabi, where he quickly charmed Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, the de-facto ruler of the UAE.

The former special operations soldier would eventually help set up and lead the UAE's Joint Aviation Command, which, according to experts on the UAE's military, operates most of the nation's combat helicopters. Since then, the body has gone on a shopping spree for equipment, the UAE being one of the world's top buyers of arms.

There is confusion over the exact nature of Toumajan's role. He has denied being part of the Emirati army command structure but in proceedings inside the US he has declared himself a general "for the United Arab Emirates".

The UAE is part of the Saudi-led Arab coalition fighting Iran-backed rebels in Yemen. The war has claimed more than 10,000 civilian lives amid accusations against the Arab coalition of perpetrating war crimes, triggering calls for an arms embargo on Riyadh and Abu Dhabi.

Reports first emerged in 2015 that the UAE was sending mercenaries to fight in Yemen, choosing not to send its own citizens to fight in the chaos.

Sudanese Janjaweed, Colombians, South African and other foreign troops are all being trained and dispatched by ex-military experts from France, the UK and Australia in the UAE's presidential guard.

The top officer in the Presidential Guard is an Australian citizen named Mike Hindmarsh, while responsibility for recruitment was delegated to a UAE firm called Reflex Responses Company, also known as R2.

R2 was founded in 2010 by a United States military contractor named Erik Prince, the same year Prince, a former US Navy SEAL officer, moved to the UAE - and only months after he sold his stake in Blackwater, the "controversial" mercenary firm he founded.

Prince, the brother of US education secretary Betsy DeVos, is an informal foreign policy adviser to President Donald Trump, having donated $250,000 to the Trump election campaign and attended a now-infamous meeting in the Seychelles with a Russian banker close to Vladimir Putin. The meeting was set up by UAE diplomats, and US investigators are now trying to determine whether the rendesvous was an attempt to establish a communications back-channel between the Trump team and the Kremlin, particularly relating to sanctions relief for a Russian state-run investment fund.

"The two operational guys that they rely on to run the f*****g war for them is Mike Hindmarsh and Stephen Toumajan," a retired top CIA official who has dealt frequently with the UAE told BuzzFeed News.

"Basically they've got foreign mercenaries fighting the war - or commanding the war, I should say."

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