x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

A force to be reckoned with

40 years of the UAE: A country is only as strong as its army. In the UAE, unification of forces was the answer.

Sheikh Zayed reviews the troops at a military awards ceremony in 1976. Courtesy Al Ittihad
Sheikh Zayed reviews the troops at a military awards ceremony in 1976. Courtesy Al Ittihad

A country is only as strong as its army. In the UAE, unification of forces was the answer. Haneen Dajani reports

In 1972, Sheikh Faisal Al Qassimi was asked to evaluate the armed forces of the individual emirates and what their roles should be in the fledgling UAE.

Just a year later, all of those militaries were unified under one national command.

"In the beginning, building the force was difficult. There was nothing available," said Sheikh Faisal, 71, the former military chief of staff who has served with various forces in the region since 1954.

"Sheikh Zayed wanted to see a strong force that can protect the security of the region, so he gave us the green light to cooperate with foreign forces."

They were given support from British, Pakistani, Jordanian and Sudanese troops.

Sheikh Faisal said uniting the forces was a strategic step that strengthened the country's military and security.

"Separate armies, what are their goals? They wouldn't have lasted," he said. "There were many armies: Dubai, National Guard of Sharjah and RAK Guards.

"An army is like fire. Everything you put in it, it eats it and never stops. So even if they continued separately, they would've been limited. But the unification gave it strength and an identity."

Sheikh Zayed followed the force's development closely, asking for updates almost daily.

"Any weapon we used to get, he had to see it first," Sheikh Faisal said. "He was very proud. And he went himself to Al Ain to see the Puma aircraft when we got them."

Three years later, the force's growing strength was such that it began sending troops to assist foreign missions.

The first mission, in Lebanon in 1976, was an attempt to limit the drastic consequences of civil war. The Armed Forces went back to Lebanon in 2001 to help clear mines in the south.

In 1991, the military played a role in the liberation of Kuwait as part of the Peninsula Shield forces, representing the six states of the GCC. The UAE went back to Kuwait in 2003 to help enhance its defence capabilities.

Maj Ali Al Suwaidi, the head of emergency at the Emirates Marine Environmental Group, was a member of the first team in charge of removing mines from Kuwait after the Gulf War.

"It took three months to remove them all," Maj Al Suwaidi said. "It was one of the very difficult missions. There were no injuries at all. We worked as per the principle: think, work as a team, safety."

Col Rashid Al Buloushi was a member of the UAE Navy during the Gulf War.

"We were in charge of providing logistics for the Army in Kuwait," Col Al Buloushi said. "I believe we played our role even though we were not positioned in Kuwait."

Ali Al Hufayti, in his 40s, lives in the Fujairah village of Wamm.

"The army allowed a simple villager like myself to have an important role in my country," Mr Al Hufayti said.

Without divulging his position and what operations he has been involved in, he said all nine of his brothers and more than 20 cousins work for the Army.

"It is our greatest honour," Mr Al Hufayti said. "We wear our uniform proudly and we dedicate our lives to our country."

He added that one day he hoped his daughters and granddaughters would also serve.

"In the UAE, anything and everything is possible," Mr Al Hufayti said. "And we as citizens would sacrifice everything for its sake."

hdajani@thenational.ae

* With additional reporting by Rym Ghazal