On August 22nd UAE (United Arab Emirates) commandos In Yemen found and rescued a British citizen who had been held captive by Islamic terrorists for 18 months. This was one of the few times the UAE admitted publicly that it had a SOC (Special Operations Command) and commandos capable to finding and rescuing someone held captive by Islamic terrorists. The UAE has been particularly secretive about its special operations force.
What is known is that since 2008 the UAE has been actively trying to upgrade and expand its armed forces. One of the new units established (in 2010) was a Presidential Guard Command (PGC). This was described as a “best of the best” unit containing the most reliable and capable troops the UAE had. There are only about 5,000 troops in the PGC and most of them appear to be in the even more mysterious SOC (Special Operations Command).
The UAE has been trying to train its own citizens for special operations for over a decade and in 2010 appeared to be recruiting non-Moslem foreigners for a special security battalion that may or may not be involved with SOC. By 2011 this battalion of 800 troops and appeared to be composed of Western contractors who were already combat veterans. This force was recruited from men who had combat experience and were then organized as a counter-terrorism and rapid reaction force. Officially this new battalion was to provide security for key facilities in UAE but that may have just been a cover story. Apparently there was also special operations training for some of the men in the “contractor” battalion. Some of these foreign troops already had special operations training and experience in their home country. It is unclear if the UAE commandos in Yemen were all UAE citizens or largely men from the contractor battalion or even special operations troops from foreign countries wearing UAE uniforms. It is known that the head of the PGC is a retired Australian general who spent most of his career in special operations.
The “contractor” battalion was but a small portion of the many foreigners already serving in the UAE armed forces. Hiring foreign mercenaries, to ensure that the rulers are protected by troops who are the most skilled and reliable, is an old custom in the region. Actually, it used to be a widespread practice worldwide. Some Western nations, like the Vatican, still retains foreign mercenaries. In this case, it's the Swiss Guards, which the popes have been using for over 500 years ago, because the locals were too often unreliable.
The UAE also took the bold step of adopting conscription, mainly to create a reserve force of trained citizens and thus be less dependent on mercenaries. Conscription is rare in Arabia, but the growing Iranian threat is causing many radical ideas to become acceptable. The main idea behind the UAE conscription plan is to get all qualified (for military service) Emirati men aged 18-30 trained so they can fight effectively if called up in an emergency. In effect the UAE wants to emulate the Israeli system. The UAE will only keep conscripts in uniform for 9-24 months and that will mostly be for training. College educated men will stay in longer and be trained as officers or technical experts. After that everyone will be in the reserves and organized into units that will train regularly for as long as they are able. That usually means for about twenty years. That is the plan, sort of. A lot of details are still being worked out as the program is implemented. The UAE goal is to be have an armed force of 270,000 trained troops within days of mobilization.