Small Wars Journal

UAE's Battle-Hardened Military Expands Into Africa, Mideast

UAE's Battle-Hardened Military Expands Into Africa, Mideast by Jon Gambrell, Associated Press

The United Arab Emirates is better known for its skyscrapers and pampered luxuries, but its small size belies a quiet expansion of its battle-hardened military into Africa and elsewhere in the Middle East.

The seven-state federation ranks as one of Washington's most prominent Arab allies in the fight against the Islamic State group, hosting some 5,000 American military personnel, fighter jets and drones. But the practice gunfire echoing through the deserts near bases outside of Dubai and recent military demonstrations in the capital of Abu Dhabi show a country increasingly willing to flex its own muscle amid its suspicions about Iran.

Already, the UAE has landed expeditionary forces in Afghanistan and Yemen. Its new overseas bases on the African continent show this country, which U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis calls "Little Sparta," has even larger ambitions.

The UAE, a federation of seven sheikhdoms, only became a country in 1971. It had been a British protectorate for decades and several of the emirates had their own security forces. The forces merged together into a national military force that took part in the 1991 U.S.-led Gulf War that expelled Iraqi forces occupying Kuwait.

The UAE sent troops to Kosovo as part of the NATO-led peacekeeping mission there starting in 1999, giving its forces valuable experience working alongside Western allies in the field. Following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, it deployed special forces troops in Afghanistan to support the U.S.-led war against the Taliban. Emirati personnel there combined aid with Arab hospitality, working on infrastructure projects in villages and meeting with local elders.

Today, the UAE hosts Western forces at its military bases, including American and French troops. Jebel Ali port in Dubai serves as the biggest port of call for the American Navy outside of the United States.

The UAE decided in recent years to grow its military, in part over concerns about Iran's resurgence in the region following the nuclear deal with world powers and the Islamic Republic's involvement in the wars in Syria and Yemen…

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