Spear Operations Group Accused of Training Yemeni Forces to Conduct Assassinations


Military training in Yemen. Owen Bennet-Jones, BBC. Used under Creative Commons license. 

A new BBC documentary charges Spear Operations Group, a company previously incorporated in the U.S. state of Delaware, with training Yemeni forces to conduct assassinations on behalf of the government of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). These forces allegedly later recruited members of Al Qaeda to work for them.

“I hold them responsible because they oversaw the training of these cells,” Ansaf Ali Mayo, a Yemeni politician from Aden who was targeted by Spear for assassination told the BBC. “They made them skilled in assassinations. They bear a heavy responsibility.”

But former Spear employees say that they don’t agree. “You train people, you give people a tool, and how they choose to use it is not, really not your responsibility,” Isaac Gilmore, a former Spear employee, told the BBC. “War is always f... messy. Anytime there's conflict, there's going to be people that are hurt or killed that you wish weren't.”

Incorporated in the town of Camden, Delaware in August 2015 and dissolved in October 2018, Spear Operations Group was founded by Abraham Golan, a Hungarian Israeli security contractor.

Multiple former Spear employees have spoken out openly in the past about being paid to work in Yemen: Golan himself, Gilmore as well as Dale Comstock, both of whom are former U.S. Special Forces soldiers.

“There was a targeted assassination program in Yemen, I was running it. We did it. It was sanctioned by the UAE,” Golan, founder of Spear told BuzzFeed News in 2018. “Maybe I’m a monster. Maybe I should be in jail. Maybe I’m a bad guy. But I’m right.”

“Truth be told, I think most of us went over there to take the fight to the bad guys and the money was okay,” Comstock told SOFREP, an online publication.

But Reprieve, a human rights organization based in London, says that out of 160 killings carried out in Yemen between 2015 and 2018, only 23 of those killed had any links to terrorism.

“Most of those targeted are political, civil and social activists. I challenge them to find a single terrorist who was assassinated," Ali Mayo, whom Spear admits targeting, told the BBC. (Spear failed to kill him.) "What shocked me most was that they’d sent foreign mercenaries to kill us in our own country. What moral and legal justification could there be to cross the ocean and kill me in Aden?"

“We need to be asking a lot of questions, especially about this company that is registered in the U.S. What did the United States know about this? What did the CIA know about this programme?" Baraa Shiban, a Reprieve investigator, told the BBC. "Did they actually sign off on some of those members to go and carry out assassinations in South Yemen?”

Human rights activists point out that assassination programs are always illegal under U.S. laws. "Under the War Crimes Act, it is a crime for a U.S. citizen to commit certain violations of international humanitarian law, including murder," write Ryan Goodman and Sarah Knuckey in an online forum known as Just Security, days after the first exposé of Spear in 2018. "The Justice Department has clear authority to investigate a U.S. company and its band of American mercenaries for alleged killings carried out in Yemen, acts which may amount to murder and war crimes."

Despite requests by members of the U.S. Congress to conduct such an investigation, the U.S. government has not followed up, likely because of its strong ties to the UAE government which includes tens of billions of dollars in military sales.

A similar request by the Delaware Coalition for Open Government has also been ignored. “I was shocked, and disturbed," Nick Wasileski of the Delaware Coalition told the Delaware Republic. "It appears on the surface that anything is possible through a Delaware limited liability company if bad actors want to use it to commit different types of crimes.”

Indeed, it is an open secret that the U.S. government has conducted similar targeted assassinations, notably with the help of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, in Yemen and many other countries around the world, as documented in books like William Blum’s book: Killing Hope. (Ironically an early edition of the book is available for free on the CIA’s own website.)

While the U.S. has often hired contractors to help with many aspects of assassination such as the tracking of specific individuals (see CorpWatch’s report Drone Inc.: Marketing the Illusion of Precision Killing), it is rare that it allows contractors to conduct freelance killing, and has even occasionally prosecuted companies like Blackwater for such activities.

No such oversight of Spear appears to be forthcoming, over five years after Comstock, Gilmore and Golan freely admitted that they took part in targeted killings.

For its part, the UAE government says it did not break the law. "The UAE has acted in compliance with applicable international law during these operations," the UAE said in a statement.


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