Dhofar Rebellion ( ) was launched in the province
of Dhofar against the
Sultanate of Muscat and
Oman, which had British support, from 1962 to 1975.
It ended with
the defeat of the rebels, but the state of Oman had to be radically
reformed and modernized to cope with the campaign.
In 1962, Oman was a comparatively backward country in the Middle East
. Sultan Said bin Taimur
, the absolute ruler, had
outlawed almost all aspects of twentieth-century development and
relied on British support to maintain the rudimentary functions of
the state. Dhofar itself was a dependency of Oman and it was
subjected to severe economic exploitation. Moreover, the population
of Dhofar, who speak various Modern South Arabian
, were subjected to even greater restrictions than
province of Dhofar consists of an intermittent narrow, fertile
coastal plain, on which stand Salalah, the
provincial capital, and other towns such as Mughsayl, Taqah and Mirbat.
Behind this are the rugged hills of the Jebel Dhofar. The western
portion of this range is known as the Jebel Qamar, the central part
as the Jebel Qara and the eastern part as the Jebel Samhan. From
June to September each year, the jebel receives moisture-laden
winds (the Khareef
or monsoon) and is
shrouded in cloud. As a result, it is heavily vegetated, and for
much of the year is green and lush. The inhabitants of the villages
and communities on the jebel were known as jibalis
north, the hills slope down via rough wadis and
cliffs into the gravel plains and sand seas of the Empty Quarter.
Early years of the rebellion
In 1962 a
dissatisfied tribal leader, Mussalim bin Nafl, formed the Dhofar Liberation Front (DLF) and
obtained arms and vehicles from Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia and Oman had earlier clashed
over ownership of the Buraimi
Oasis, and the Saudis had already supported two failed
insurrections in the Jebel Akhdar in the interior of Oman in 1957–59.
also received support from Ghalib bin Ali, the exiled Imam of Oman,
who had led these earlier revolts.
Bin Nafl and his men made an epic crossing of the Empty Quarter to
reach Dhofar. As early as December 1962, Bin Nafl's
guerilla band performed sabotage operations on the British air base
at Salalah and ambushed oil industry vehicles; however, they then
withdrew, having been sent by Saudi Arabia to Iraq for more
From 1964 the DLF began a campaign of hit-and-run attacks on oil
company installations and government posts. Many of the DLF were
trained former soldiers of the Sultan of Oman's Armed Forces
(SAF), or of the Trucial Oman
Scouts in the United Arab Emirates.
The Sultan had relied on the "Dhofar Force", a locally-recruited
irregular unit of only 60 men, to maintain order in region. In
April 1966, members of this unit attempted to assassinate the
Sultan. This event apparently changed the nature of the conflict.
The Sultan retired to his palace in Salalah, never to be seen in
public again. This only served to add to rumours that the British
were running Oman through a "phantom" Sultan. The Sultan also
launched a full-scale military offensive against the DLF, against
the advice of his British advisors. Heavy-handed search and destroy
missions were launched
in Dhofar, villages were burned and wells were concreted over or
blown up. A member of the SAF reported that after receiving heavy
resistance, it "proved that the position was unattainable, and
after blowing up the village wells we evacuated the camp."
An emboldened movement
early days of the rebellion, Nasserite and
other left wing movements in Yemen and Aden were also
In 1967, two events combined to give the Rebellion
a more revolutionary complexion. One was the Six Day War
which radicalized opinion throughout
the Arab world. The other was the British withdrawal
from Aden and the
establishment of the People's Democratic
Republic of Yemen (PDRY).
From this point, the rebels
had a source of arms, supplies and training facilities adjacent to
Dhofar, and fresh recruits from among well-indoctrinated groups in
the PDRY. Training camps, logistical bases and other facilities
were set up in the coastal town of Hauf
, only a
few miles from the border with Oman.
In May 1968, an attack by a battalion of the Sultan's Armed Forces
against a rebel position at Deefa in the Jebel Qamar was defeated
by heavily-armed and well-organised and trained rebels.
At a "Second Congress" of the movement in September 1968, most of
the official posts within the movement passed into the hands of
radicals, and the movement renamed itself the Popular
Front for the Liberation of the Occupied Arabian Gulf
(al-Jabha al-Sha'abiya li-Tahrir al-Khalij al-'Arabi
), or PFLOAG. The move towards Marxism-Leninism
ensured that the PFLOAG
received sponsorship from both South Yemen and China. China in
particular was quick to support the PFLOAG as it was a
peasant-based organisation giving it a strong Maoist
credence. Chinese support for the PFLOAG also
had another benefit for them, as it acted as a counterbalance to
increasing Soviet influence in the Indian Ocean. China was quick to
establish an embassy in Aden and "the Yemeni regime allowed its
territory to be used for channelling weapons" to the PFLOAG. Both
the Chinese and Russians also provided members of the PFLOAG with
training in uncoventional warfare and indoctrination.
The transformation of the DLF, combined with a new supply of
weaponry and better training, ensured that the armed wing of the
PFLOAG turned into an effective fighting force. However, it also
led to a split between those such as bin Nafl who were fighting
mainly for local autonomy and recognition, and the more doctrinaire
revolutionaries (led by Mohammad Ahmad al-Ghassani). One of bin
Nafl's lieutenants, Said bin Gheer, was an early and influential
defector to the Sultan.
the DLF and PFLOAG fighters (known widely as Adoo) had
overrun much of the Jebel Dhofar, and cut the only road across it,
that from Salalah to "Midway" (Thumrait) in the deserts to the north.
well-armed with such weapons as the AK-47
. They also used heavy
machine guns (the DShK
), mortars up to 82mm in
calibre and 140mm BM-14
or 122mm "Katyusha"
The units of the Sultan's Armed Forces were understrength with only
1,000 men in Dhofar in 1968. They were also badly equipped, mainly
with World War II
vintage weapons such
rifles, which were
inferior to the PFLOAG's modern firearms. These rifles were
replaced by the FN FAL
only late in 1969.
Even the SAF's clothing and boots were ragged and unsuitable for
the terrain. The units of the SAF were generally not properly
trained to face hardy guerrillas on their own ground, and no Omani
held a rank above that of Lieutenant (a result of the Sultan's
fears of opposition to his rule among the armed forces). The SAF
generally were unable to operate in less than company strength on
the jebel, and were mainly restricted to Salalah and its immediate
area. Small detachments of the British RAF
and Royal Artillery
to be deployed to protect the vital airfield at Salalah from
infiltrators and from harassing mortar and rocket fire.
Other insurgents in the north of Oman formed another organisation,
National Democratic Front for the Liberation of Oman and the
(NDFLOAG). In June 1970 they
attacked two SAF posts at Nizwa and Izki.
were repulsed but the incident convinced many (including the
Sultan's British advisers and backers) that new leadership was
required if Oman was not to collapse into disorder.
On 23 July, 1970, Said bin Taimur was deposed. (The coup was almost
bloodless. Folklore has it that one of the plotters, two of the
Sultan's bodyguard and the Sultan were slightly wounded, all by the
Sultan himself). Sultan Said went into exile in London.
was replaced by his son, Qaboos bin
, who immediately instigated major social, educational and
military reforms. His "five point plan" involved:
hours of the coup, British Special Air Service (SAS) soldiers were being flown into Oman to
further bolster the counterinsurgency campaign.
- A general amnesty to all those of his subjects who had opposed
- An end to the archaic status of Dhofar as the Sultan's private
fief and its formal incorporation into Oman as the "southern
- Effective military opposition to rebels who did not accept the
offer of amnesty;
- A vigorous nation-wide program of development;
- Diplomatic initiatives with the aims of having Oman recognized
as a genuine Arab state with its own legal form of government, and
isolating the PDRY from receiving support from other Arab
identified four main strategies that would assist the fight against
- Civil administration and a "hearts and minds" campaign;
- Intelligence gathering and collation;
- Veterinary assistance;
- Medical assistance.
The military commanders on the ground (rather than the UK Ministry of Defence
suggested the implementation of a Hearts and Minds
campaign, which would be
put into operation primarily by a troop (25 men) from the SAS. The
government (then under Conservative
leader Edward Heath
) supported this unconventional
approach to the counterinsurgency campaign. It approved the
deployment of 20 personnel of the British Royal Engineers
, who would aid in the
construction of schools and health centres, and drill wells for the
population of Dhofar. A Royal Air Force medical team would also
operate out of Salalah hospital, in order to open a humanitarian
front in the conflict. The operation was almost a carbon copy of a
system that had proved successful in the Malayan Emergency
some twenty years
previously. The British government additionally provided monetary
support for the creation of the Dhofar Development Programme, whose
aim was to wrest support from the PFLOAG through the modernisation
To assist in the civil development and coordinate it with the
military operations, the command structure in Dhofar was
reorganized, with the newly-appointed wali or civilian governor
(Braik bin Hamoud) being given equal status to the military
commander of the Dhofar Brigade (Brigadier Jack Fletcher to 1972,
from that date).
British Propaganda - "The Hand of
God Destroys Communism
A major effort was made to counter rebel propaganda and induce the
Dhofari population to support the government. In particular,
appeals were made to Islam and to traditional tribal values and
customs, against the rebels' secular or materialistic teachings. A
significant outlet for government propaganda was the many
inexpensive Japanese transistor radios which were sold cheaply or
distributed free to Dhofaris who visited Salalah and other
government-held towns to sell firewood or vegetables. Although the
PFLOAG could also broadcast propaganda by radio, the Government's
propaganda was factual and low-key, while that of the rebels was
soon perceived to be exaggerated and stereotyped.
One step which had a major impact on the uprising was the
announcement of an amnesty for surrendered fighters, and aid in
defending their communities from rebels. A cash incentive was
offered to rebels who surrendered, with a bonus if they brought
their weapon. The surrendered rebels formed
Firqat irregular units, trained by teams (British Army
Training Teams, or BATTs) from the British Special Air
from between 50 to 150 each, were eventually formed. They usually
gave themselves names with connections to Islam, such as the
. These irregular
groups played a major part in denying local support to the rebels.
themselves (and in many cases with family
connections among the communities on the Jebel), they were better
at local intelligence-gathering and "hearts and minds" activities
than the northern Omani or Baluchi
personnel of the regular SAF.
The first serious step in re-establishing the Sultan's authority on
the Jebel took place in October 1971, when Operation
was mounted, involving five Firqat
two squadrons of the SAS. After hard fighting, the SAS and
secured an enclave on the eastern Jebel Samhan
from which they could expand.
Meanwhile, the regular units of the SAF were expanded and
re-equipped. Extra officers and NCO instructors from the British Army
(and also the Pakistan
) were attached to all units (there were nominally
twenty-two British or contracted personnel with each infantry
battalion) while Omani personnel were educated and trained to
become officers and senior NCOs
. The SAF created fortified
lines running north from the coast and up to the summit of the
Jebel, to interdict the movement of rebels and the camel trains
carrying their supplies from the PDRY. The "Leopard Line" had
already been established in 1969, but this line had to be abandoned
during the monsoon season as it could not be supplied. The more
effective "Hornbeam Line" was set up in 1971, running north from
Mughsayl on the coast.
The lines consisted of fortified platoon and company outposts on
commanding peaks, linked by barbed wire. The posts possessed
mortars and some also had artillery, to provide cover for patrols
and to harrass rebel positions and tracks used by them. The SAF
soldiers continually sortied from their outposts to set ambushes on
the most likely enemy infiltration routes and against rebel mortar
and rocket launching positions. Anti-personnel land mines were sown
on infiltration routes. The rebels also used anti-personnel mines
against suspected SAF patrol bases, and even anti-tank land mines
on tracks used by SAF vehicles.
The Sultan of Oman's Air
was also expanded, with BAC
and Hawker Hunter
aircraft which provided air support to units on the ground, and
eight Shorts Skyvan
and eight Agusta Bell 205
helicopters which supplied firqat
and SAF posts on the
jebels. A flight of RAF Westland
helicopters also operated from Salalah.
The defeat of the rebellion
As a result of these combined measures, the rebels were deprived
both of local support and supplies from the PDRY. To retrieve the
situation, they mounted major attacks on the coastal towns of
Mirbat and Taqah during the monsoon season of 1972. At the Battle of
Mirbat, 250 Adoo attacked 100 assorted
Firqat under training, paramilitary askars (armed
police) and a detachment of the Special Air Service.
spite of the low khareef cloud cover, air support from Strikemaster
aircraft was available, and helicopters landed SAS reinforcements.
were repulsed with heavy losses.
From this point on, the rebel defeat was inevitable, although they
defeated an offensive by the SAF in 1973 intended to seal the
border with the PDRY and capture the main Adoo
base in the
Shershitti Caves. The SAF had earlier gained one success when they
made a helicopter landing to capture a position codenamed
at Sarfait near the border. The post at Sarfait was
held at some cost in aircraft for two years, and overlooked the
rebels' supply lines along the coastal plain although it did not
block them. The Adoo
earned the respect of their opponents
for their resilience and skill.
In January 1974, after several splits and defections, the rebel
movement renamed itself the Popular Front for the
Liberation of Oman
(PFLO). This contraction of their
aims coincided with a reduction in the support they received from
the Soviet Union and China. Meanwhile, the Adoo
steadily cleared from the Jebel Qara and Jebel Samhan by
and were driven into the western part of the Jebel
As a result of Sultan Qaboos's diplomatic initiatives, the Shah of Iran
had sent a brigade of
troops numbering 1200 and with its own helicopters to assist the
Sultan's Armed Forces in 1973. The Iranian brigade first secured
the Salalah-Thumrait road. In 1974, the Iranian contribution was
expanded into the Imperial Iranian Task Force, numbering 4,000.
They attempted to establish another interdiction line, codenamed
the "Damavand Line", running from Manston
, a few miles
east of Sarfait, to the coast near the border with the PDRY. Heavy
opposition from the adoo
, which included artillery fire
from within the PDRY, thwarted this aim for several months.
Eventually, the town of Rahkyut, which the PFLO had long maintained
as the capital of their liberated territory, fell to the Iranian
In July 1975, the SAF launched a second "final" offensive. An
attack from Simba
, intended to be a diversion,
nevertheless succeeded in descending cliffs and slopes in total
height to reach the coast at Dalqhut, and thus finally cut off the
from their bases in the PDRY. Other SAF units finally
captured Deefa, the Shershitti Caves and other defended positions
in the Jebel Qamar. Hawker Hunter aircraft of the Sultan's Air
Force (31 of these had been transferred to the SAF from the
Royal Jordanian Air Force
attacked artillery positions in the PDRY. Over the next few months,
the remaining rebel fighters surrendered or sought sanctuary in the
The Rebellion was finally declared to be defeated in January 1976,
although isolated incidents took place as late as 1979.
Sultan of Oman had also been the ruler of the port of Gwadur in Balochistan in Pakistan until 1958.
Baluchi troops formed a
substantial part of the Sultan's Army. During the rebellion, Oman
sought to hire more Baluchi troops. One act of resistance against
this was in 1979 when Hameed Baloch
an activist of the Baloch
(BSO) tried to shoot at an Omani military
officer who was visiting Balochistan to recruit more Baluchi
troops. As a leftist organization, the BSO expressed solidarity
with the Dhofari rebels. Hameed Baloch was later executed
by the Government of Pakistan
incident, even though the Omani officer was unhurt.
- Halliday, Fred. Arabia Without Sultans. London:
Penguin, 1974. ISBN 0140218181.
- Captain N.G.R Hepworth, "The Unknown War", The White Horse and
Fleur de Leys, No. 6 (1970).
- Fiennes, pp.116-120
- Fiennes, pp.127-129, 153-157
- Fiennes, p.173
- TNA, DEFE 25/186: UK Forces in Oman, 26 July 1971
- Allen & Rigsbee, pp.68-69
- Gardiner, p.60
- The SAF supposedly marked and recorded all mines laid; but some
were moved by the adoo or by animals, and the records of
mine locations were subsequently lost. Gardiner, pp.124-126
- Gardiner, p.4
- Allen & Rigsbee, pp.72-73