The Jebel Akhdar War, Oman

Britain’s Undeclared Wars : The Battle for Green Mountain

The Jebel Akhdar War, Oman 10 October 1954 – 30 January 1959

by Nick Brazil

Oman during the 1950s

It is difficult to imagine what life was like in Muscat and Oman during the 1950s. This beautiful desert country was nominally ruled over by the despotic Sultan Said Bin Taimur who really did not believe in progress. In 1955, the country had just ten miles of tarmac road and no schools or medical facilities. The health of the population of 750,000 was terrible and illiteracy was very high at about 95%. The Sultan saw no reason to spend any of the revenues he made from customs duties to improve matters. This resistance to change would eventually see the old Sultan replaced in a bloodless coup by his son Qaboos bin Said, but that would not be for another twenty years.

In the meantime, the Sultan’s writ did not run particularly large outside the two main population centres of Muscat in the north of the country and Salalah in the far south. In fact, the country was effectively split in two. Said Bin Taimur ruled as The Sultan of Muscat whilst the interior of the country was known as the Imamate of Oman and ruled over by an Imam from the desert city of Nizwa. The dividing line between these two areas of control was a mountain plateau dominated by The Green Mountain or Jebel Akhdar. Until 1954 these two rulers existed in a state of mutual co-existence. This was mainly because the old Imam was a fairly benign ruler who believed in “live and let live”. All that would change when he died in that year. Technically, this was all one country known as The Sultanate of Muscat and Oman.

Jebel Akhdar Oman
Omani Guard Nizwa Fort

Conflict flares up in Muscat and Oman

This confusing tribal construct made the Sultanate vulnerable to attack from competing groups who wished to break the country up and bring down its ruler. In the 1950s and 60s there would be no shortage of these. However, Bin Taimur had a small British military presence to protect him. This protection was reinforced by the obligation of a Treaty signed by both countries in the 1940s.

In 1954 a conflict flared up in Muscat and Oman that could well have deposed the Sultan had it not been for the assistance of the British military. Known as The Jebel Akhdar War it was very much a twentieth century conflict fought against a mediaeval desert backdrop.

The seeds of this tribal revolt were sown by an earlier dispute in 1952 involving ownership of an oasis called Buraimi. This settlement lay about 140 miles from Nizwa on the border of The Trucial States (now known as The United Arab Emirates) and Oman. In the 1950s, it was a grouping of nine villages, three of which belonged to Oman and six to Abu Dhabi.

Black Gold

Executives of the Arabian American Oil Company (Aramco) based in Saudi Arabia believed there were considerable reserves of ‘the ‘black gold’ beneath the sands of the Buraimi Oasis. So, in 1950, a geological team from Aramco backed up by armed Saudi Arabian guards moved into the Buraimi area to prospect for oil. Their action was in breach of a 1935 agreement between Great Britain and Saudi Arabia that placed Buraimi in the territory of Oman and Abu Dhabi. At the time both these sultanates were under the military protection of Britain.

Jebel Akhdar Oman
Nizwa Fort

Further Battle Honours

This incursion sparked a confrontation between a small contingent of Trucial Oman Levies (a predominantly arab fighting force led by British officers later known as Trucial Oman Scouts) who were protecting  Patrick Stobart, the British political officer. Outnumbered by the Saudi contingent, Stobart’s guards were disarmed and he was briefly detained. The British Government complained strongly about this to Saudi Arabia. However, King Abdul Aziz Al Saud, the founder and ruler of Saudi Arabia gave this short shrift. No doubt he regarded British “interference” in the affairs of the Gulf Arab nations to be an impertinence. For its part, Britain would cite the fact that it was upholding the Treaties it had signed with Abu Dhabi and Oman to protect and support them.

The Saudis claimed that the Buraimi oasis was theirs since the Wahabis had occupied it in the nineteenth century. They were a strict Islamic sect who originated in Saudi Arabia and remained the power behind the Saudi throne from the 19th and into 20th Century.  In reality, their tenure in Buraimi was fleeting at best with intermittent occupations of the oasis between 1800 and 1869 when they were finally evicted by the Sultan of Oman. In the tense and uneasy period of peace that followed, the Saudis extended their land claims to include a large part of the neighbouring sheikdom of Abu Dhabi.

Then on 31st August 1952 the Saudis invaded the Buraimi Oasis occupying the Omani village of Hamasa. Their force which numbered about eighty men, forty of whom were armed, was led by Turki bin Abdullah Al Otaishan, the Emir of  Ras Tanura, a city in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia He lost no time in spreading Saudi largesse in the form of clothes, money and other supplies amongst the impoverished locals. He won over the loyalty of one of the local sheikhs and his tribe. At a feast in this sheikh’s village, he declared himself the new Governor of Buraimi and protector of its tribes.

In a rare display of co-operation, Said bin Taimur and the Imam of the Oman Imamate raised an army of about 8000 tribesmen and made ready to march on Buraimi from the coastal town of Sohar. Had they been allowed to do this, the Omanis would have undoubtedly evicted the Saudi force from Buraimi in short order. Unfortunately, the British decided it was better to negotiate with the Saudis and pressured the Sultan to stand down his tribal army. Many consider this to have been a mistaken strategy since it not only prolonged the crisis but involved severe loss of face by Said Bin Taimur amongst the local tribes. This was no small matter in Gulf arab society. 

A Benevolent Siege

What followed was a three-year stand-off with 100 Trucial Oman Levies surrounding the Saudi occupied fort at Buraimi. They were backed up by a much larger force consisting of   armoured cars and Land Rovers, Lancaster bombers and Meteor fighters. 300 Aden Protectorate Levies joined the troops at the oasis.

What has been described as a ‘benevolent siege’ (The Jebel Akhdar War by Maj. John B Meagher USMC) was generally peaceful with the exception of one violent incident.

The Levies of the Aden Protectorate force may have had a similar function to the Trucial Oman Levies but they were of a considerably lower calibre. Unruly and mutinous, they gave their officers quite a bit of trouble.

Most of them were stationed with the Trucial Oman Levies in the cordon surrounding the Saudi held fort in Buraimi. When Otto Thwaites, the British officer commanding the Levies got wind they were selling ammunition to the local tribes, he travelled down to Buraimi to sort the problem out. Accounts of what happened next differ. One description says that Thwaites and three of the other officers accompanying him were shot dead when he attempted to arrest some of the members of the Aden Levies.

In another account, Thwaites and his colleagues did not even get that far. As they approached the oasis, their Land Rover was ambushed. Thwaites, a Jordanian officer and a British Army doctor were all killed in the lethal crossfire. By some miracle, the other occupant of the vehicle, a REME sergeant survived and drove the Land Rover out of the ambush. Either way, they were the only fatalities in this prolonged confrontation. As a result of this tragic incident, the Aden Levies were removed from duty at the oasis.

Ghalib bin Ali Elected as Imam

In July 1954, the dispute was referred to international Arbitration Tribunal in Geneva. In the following month, the Tribunal agreed that the oasis be policed by a force of fifteen Saudi police led by an officer and fifteen Trucial Oman Levies and an officer.

During the next few months, an uneasy calm prevailed. However, beneath the surface, the Saudis continued  their  “hearts and minds” campaign in an attempt to win over the local tribes. This was mainly bribery involving anything from large sums of cash to gifts of ornamental pistols. This tactic was not only limited to the dusty oasis. In 1955 Sir Reader Buller, the British representative at The Geneva Tribunal walked out in protest at Saudi attempts to influence the judges.

On 25th October 1955, the British Government did exactly what they had prevented the Sultan of Muscat and Oman from doing three years previously. They sent in a force of 220 Trucial Oman Levies and took the Buraimi Oasis from the Saudis with virtually no bloodshed. Shooting did break out after the Saudis left when the local Bedouins opened up on the levies. No doubt, they were angered at the loss of income provided by bribes now that their Saudi beneficiaries had been removed.

The Death of the old Imam of Oman

During the dispute, the benevolent old Imam of Oman had died. He was replaced by Ghalib bin Ali who was elected as Imam in what was probably a rigged vote. This was likely to have been organized by a close ally of Ghalib, another local tribal leader called Suleiman Bin Hamyar. The Saudi campaign of inducements to local tribespeople was another tipping factor. Fiercely independent and opposed to any outsiders in the Imamate of Oman, Ghalib had nothing but contempt for the Sultan in Muscat. Without doubt, he was a charismatic and popular leader well respected by the tribespeople of the Oman Imamate over which he now ruled. By contrast, Sultan Said Bin Taimur’s rule was remote, autocratic and repressive. Few, if any benefits of this regime reached its actual subjects. Even though they were banned from leaving Oman without the Sultan’s permission, a significant number of Omanis went into exile, mainly in Saudi Arabia. This would be an important factor in the severity and length of the coming uprising.

In 1954, Sultan Bin Taimur authorized the mainly British owned Iraq Petroleum Company to prospect for oil near the settlement of Fahud in the Omani interior. On 10th October, the IPC moved onto the site accompanied by an armed contingent of the Sultan’s forces. The following day, these forces known as The Muscat & Oman Field Forces (MOFF) occupied the neighbouring settlement of Tanam. Although the locals welcomed the IPC no doubt foreseeing the wealth these foreigners would bring, Ghalib was outraged. Both Fahud and Tanam were situated deep within the Imamate which he considered was his fiefdom. In response he mounted an attack on the local tribes. He also declared the Imamate to be The Independent State of Oman and applied to join the Arab League.

The Sultan’s flag flutters over the great fort of Nizwa

In response to this, a MOFF force took the towns of Adam and Ibri. On 15th December they went a crucial step further by taking the Imamate capital of Nizwa. The M.O.F.F. under the command of a British officer, Lt Colonel Colin Maxwell also laid siege to the nearby fortress town of Rustaq whose Wali (leader) was Ghalib’s younger brother and close ally Talib bin Ali. The fort fell after a determined defence with Talib escaping into exile in Saudi Arabia.

Once there, he sought financial support from the Kingdom and other friendly regimes to carry on the fight against Sultan Said Bin Taimur. His efforts were undoubtedly successful with both the conservative Saudi Arabian and revolutionary Egyptian regimes backing the Imamate in an unholy alliance. A man of great charisma and drive, Talib also successfully raised a fighting force of about three hundred Omani expatriates whom he would lead back to Oman. However, with the Sultan’s flag fluttering over the great fort of Nizwa, it seemed that Ghalib’s revolt had been crushed almost before it began.

To set the seal on his domination of the Interior, Said Bin Taimur travelled from his southern city of  Salalah to Nizwa, five hundred and fifty miles to the north. His convoy of trucks with its huge dust cloud must have been quite a sight as it tore across the desert. Once there, he took the oaths of loyalty of the local tribal leaders and declared the Imamate dead and buried. Appearing to accept this fait accomplis, Ghalib abdicated as the Imam and retired to his tribal base in the mountain village of Bilad Sait. His long term ally Suleiman Bin Hamyar climbed into his Chevrolet convertible (a gift from the Saudis) and retired to his town of Tanuf. There, he would resume his questionable style of autocratic rule over the tribespeople within his fiefdom surrounding Tanuf. This included travelling around local villages demanding, as their sheikh and Lord of The Green Mountain,  to sleep with any wife or daughter that took his fancy.

Jebel Akhdar Oman
Nizwa Fort
Jebel Akhdar Oman
RAF Venom attacking Nizwa Fort during Jebel Akhdar War

The Talib Returns

Anyone who thought this little war was over so quickly would have been hopelessly over optimistic. Such a cut and dried solution was never on the cards in the complex world of Arabian politics.  Another important factor was the competing demands of the Aramco and IPC oil companies, both of whom were seeking to gain the upper hand by winning the rights to drill  for oil in the Omani interior. With American oil giants owning a share in both companies, the U.S. Government remained neutral in this fight.

In 1957, Talib bin Ali  re-entered the struggle for Oman from his exile in Saudi Arabia and Egypt. He was preceded  by Ibrahim bin Issa one of his lieutenants who returned to Oman leading a force of about seventy expatriate Omanis. Nothing happened for a couple of months. Then in June, the Sultan invited Ibrahim to his palace in Muscat for talks. Ibrahim accepted the invitation in good faith. However, no sooner had he set foot inside the palace, he was arrested and imprisoned in the forbidding Portuguese Fort of Jelali that towered over the city.

Shortly after this Talib made his return to Oman. Accompanied by a force of between one and three hundred heavily armed expatriate Omanis, he landed near the fishing settlement of Suwaiq on the southern Batinah coast. Another force of seventy men landed on the norther part of the coast between Sohar and Sur. Somehow, neither group were detected by the Sultan’s people as they made their way inland determined to restore the old Imamate. Once at the mountain village of Bilad Sait, Talib broke cover and announced the re-establishment of the Imamate. Ghalib was persuaded to resume the post of Imam.

When news of Talib’s return reached Muscat, the Sultan’s Regiment (formerly the MOFF) was despatched in a convoy of Land Rovers. What artillery they had, consisted of two ancient Kipling field pieces whose only source of ammunition resided in the Imperial War Museum in London.

The mountain road up to Bilad Sait is indeed treacherous as it twists and turns through canyons, any of which could have been the site of a deadly ambush. However, thanks to the protection of the Ibriyid one of the few local tribes loyal to the Sultan, the force made it to the village unscathed. There followed a desperate and hard fought battle with Talib’s rebels which would last seven days and nights. It had been agreed that the Ibriyid tribe would take the heights surrounding the village. Inexplicably, the tribesmen did not turn up, leaving the Sultan’s forces to face the battle alone.

Worse was to come however when large numbers of fighters from the Bani Riyam tribe appeared with their leader Suleiman Bin Hamyar at their head. Greatly outnumbered, the Sultan’s forces had no option but to fall back down those treacherous windy tracks. This time, there were many ambushes and mines. Every village seemed to bristle with the rifles of hostile tribesmen as the soldiers fought their way to safety twenty miles away in temperatures of 120 degrees.

Sultan's Forces Ambushed

In another ambush near Tanuf a vehicle carrying wounded from the fighting was fired on by some of Suleiman bin Hamyar’s fighters causing further deaths amongst the Sultan’s forces. Only a fraction of the Sultan’s Regiment made it back to Muscat. In fact, the Regiment was so depleted it had to be disbanded.  With Ghalib’s white flag (not one of surrender) flying over Nizwa once again and Bahla Fort back in his hands, the battle of Bilad Sait had been a major victory for the rebels and a shattering defeat for the Sultan.

One question about this action which stands out is why the Ibriyid tribe failed to man the heights. It is tempting to think this was a simple case of treachery. Had this tribe changed sides or been in league with Talib bin Ali all along? Whilst there is no answer to this, the fact that the British would use the Ibriyid in operations again indicates its tribesmen were simply unreliable rather than treacherous.

By the end of 1957, Sultan Said Bin Taimur was in a very perilous situation. His weak and ill equipped armed forces were in no shape to confront rebel army of the Imamate. The Sultan’s forces numbered 720 men. 120 of these were a ceremonial palace guard. This tiny army was comprised  mainly of Balushis from Pakistan, whilst their officers were British. On the other hand, the Imamate forces numbered about a thousand fighters backed up by thousands of irregular fighters from the towns and villages in the Omani interior. Most were highly motivated and skilled fighters who were also well armed, thanks to their Egyptian and Saudi backers. In addition to this, both Ghalib and Talib bin Ali were inspirational leaders well respected both by their men and the local community.

Following the Suez debacle, Britain was in diplomatic, political and military retreat throughout the Middle East at this time. With the forces of arab nationalism and anti-colonialism in the ascendant, not many observers would have bet on the survival of weak backward states such as Sultan bin Taimur’s in Muscat.  Without the support of a strong military power, Oman could well have fallen under the control of an anti-western regime. Had this happened, the Arabian Gulf with its strategic oil reserves and coastline would have been very different to what it is today.

Fortunately, the British Government did not throw in the towel when asked for help by Sultan Said Bin Taimur. On 16th July 1957, citing a treaty of friendship signed with the United Kingdom in the 1940s, the Sultan formerly asked Britain for help. She responded rapidly and British forces including the Cameronian Regiment and RAF fighters and bombers were placed at his disposal. In the summer of 1958, this assistance force with the strengthened and reformed Sultan’s Armed Forces took the battle for Oman to the Imamate forces of the Bin Ali brothers.

It would  not be an easy fight.  How much the air support provided by RAF Venom jets helped turn the tide of war is still a matter of debate. In twelve missions, Venoms rocketed the rebel forts at Izki, Nizwa, Tanuf and Birkat Al Mawz. In the mid 1980s damage from these raids could still be seen on the walls of Nizwa Fort. Tanuf, the seat of Suleiman Bin Hamyar (The Man with the Chevrolet),  was left in ruins which can still be seen today.

Jebel Akhdar Oman
The remains of the bombed village of Tanuf

Trucial Oman Scouts and British troops Engage the Rebel Forces

Ground forces, including Trucial Oman Scouts and British troops moved out from Fahud on 6th August 1957 to engage the rebel forces. Heavy fighting ensued in many of the desert towns including Firq.  It was at this battle that the Imamate rebel forces put up extremely stiff opposition forcing the Sultan’s forces under Lieutenant Stuart Carter to withdraw and regroup. The town was taken the next day using RAF jets attacking rebel positions followed by a ground assault by the Cameronians. The rebels fought well but suffered a large number of casualties. The capture of Nizwa, the ancient capital of Oman and centre of the uprising, was considered crucial to suppressing the revolt. This was achieved by the Sultan’s forces and Trucial Oman Levies a couple of days later. A detachment of SAS soldiers played a decisive, if typically understated role in the success of this whole operation.

Nizwa Falls and Ghalib Escapes

When Nizwa finally fell, Ghalib, his brother Talib and their followers made good their escape. They holed up in the caves of the mountain fastness of the Jebel Akhdar where they proved impossible to dislodge.

For the next two years, the rebel forces of the Bin Ali brothers fought a guerilla campaign from their base in the Jebel Akhdar. This consisted mainly of mining local roads and attacking SAF and oil company vehicles. In spite of the best efforts of the Sultan’s forces, supplies of money and mines continued to make it through to the rebels. The arms flowed in from Saudi Arabia by boat through Sharjah and then by truck to Jebel Akhdar. There, they were carried by hardy and  long suffering local donkeys up the mountain to the rebel base. The variety of these arms was also formidable and included mortars, heavy machine guns, anti aircraft guns and mines. Out of all this weaponry, it was the mines that did the most damage. Between March and November 1958, 150 vehicles were damaged by mines. These included 18 Ferret armoured cars and 100 oil company vehicles. This threatened to halt the drilling at the new Fahud oil field.

The mines that were causing this havoc were sold to the Saudis by the Americans. In view of this, the Macmillan Government asked the U.S. Government if they would cease these sales. The British were firmly rebuffed by the Americans on the grounds this was a commercial contract that could not be broken. This must have been one of the occasions in recent history that a British Government questioned whether the ‘Special Relationship’ with the U.S. Government really existed or was just a sentimental myth.

A Textbook Guerilla War

Ghalib and Talib were fighting a textbook guerilla war. Their forces numbered about 180 sharpshooters and 500 armed tribesmen. These wily men were fierce fighters well conditioned to gruelling heat of the jebel and desert. They were also excellent shots. All this, plus their ability to attack then melt into the mountain landscape made them more than a match for the Sultan’s forces. Inevitably, this had a demoralising effect on the Sultan’s troops.

In response to this, SAF and British forces made a number of attempts to dislodge the rebels but to no avail. Even the use of RAF Venoms and Shackleton bombers failed to dislodge them. In one of these attacks a Venom jet fighter crashed. Its wreckage is still up there in the Jebel. Next to it is the grave of its pilot Flt Lt Clive Owen Watkinson who died in the crash.

Jebel Akhdar Oman
Shackleton of 224 Squadron flying in formation near Masirah Airbase during the Jebel Akhdar campaign. Source Wiki

The Stronghold at the top of the Jebel Akhdar

In the case of the attacks by Shackleton Bombers it is thought these were largely ineffective. This was mainly because the crews had orders not to hit civilian targets. The bombers also turned up at the same time every day allowing the rebels ample warning to hide from the attacks in the many caves on the Jebel.

By 1958 it was clear that the rebels had to be finally defeated if Oman’s future was ever going to be secure.  This would mean taking their stronghold at the top of the Jebel Akhdar, the highest mountain in Oman. Many, including local Omanis believed this to be impossible. In fact, the only time Jebel Akhdar had ever been taken by an army was by the Persians in the 10th Century. Although they were victorious it had been at the cost of many dead Persian warriors.

In the opinion of strategists in the British Army, taking Jebel Akhdar would require at least a brigade with very high casualties. At this time, Julian Amery M.P., the Under Secretary of State for War paid a visit to the Sultan in Muscat. He persuaded him to appoint David Smiley to command his armed forces. This raised a few eyebrows back in London, but Amery knew what he was doing.

The Right man to Command the Sultan’s Forces

Smiley had served with distinction throughout the Second World War in a variety of roles and locations. As a captain in 52 Commando, he saw service behind the lines in Abyssinia (Ethiopia). Following that he fought the Vichy French in Syria. In 1943, he was recruited into the Special Operations Executive. It was in this role that he undertook his most hazardous missions being parachuted into occupied Albania twice to co-ordinate non-communist partisan operations against the Italians and Germans. It was here that he met Amery. For his work in Albania he was awarded the Military Cross and Bar (effectively a second military cross).

Jebel Akhdar Oman
Sultan Said bin Taimur of Muscat and Colonel David Smiley of the British Army. Source Wiki

Summoned from a snowy Stockholm to the deserts of Oman.

Amery knew that Smiley was the right man to command the Sultan’s forces during these dangerous times. In the winter of early 1958, Smiley was summoned from a snowy Stockholm where he was British Military Attache to an entirely different climate in the deserts of Oman.

As the new Commander of The Sultan’s Armed Forces in Muscat, Smiley greatly improved the performance and morale of the Sultan’s forces. Under his leadership, the war was once again taken to the rebels. Arms supplies were disrupted and the Imamate fighters were forced on the back foot. At one stage they even agreed to a short truce in which they stopped mining the roads in return for the RAF pausing its bombing campaign. However, this truce was stopped on orders of the Sultan after only a short period and the war resumed. However, until the rebels were forced from Jebel Akhdar, the war would not end.

So Smiley now turned his full attention to taking that rebel stronghold. For logistical reasons it was decided that taking the Jebel with regular troops would be too difficult and costly in casualties. The alternative was to use the SAS.

Decision to use the SAS

He worked closely with General Sir Frank Kitson and Lieutenant Anthony Deane-Drummond who commanded the detachment of 22 SAS Regiment in Oman. He was another soldier with a formidable reputation. During the Second World War, he was captured and escaped no less than three times. On the third occasion, after escaping captivity by the Germans at Arnhem, he hid in a wardrobe for thirteen days in the same house as German troops before escaping back to British lines. His formidable reputation as a leader of men came with him when he joined the SAS.

The three officers concluded that it would require two squadrons of SAS, a total of 160 men to take the Jebel. These soldiers of the legendary special service regiment were transferred from the steamy jungles of Malaya to Oman in an RAF Beverley transport aircraft. There they would take part in one of the most remarkable feats of arms in the Regiment’s history.

In Malaya, the dense jungle environment had limited visibility of twenty-five yards or less. This was further hampered by the jungle canopy cutting out any direct sunlight. In Oman, the SAS troops had to deal with the entirely opposite problem of visibility extending for up to  30 miles.  This greatly aided the fearless mountain fighters who were now their enemy. They were excellent shots who could pick off a target often at great distances. This meant that any attack on the rebel stronghold would have to be done at night. After arriving from Malaya, the SAS squadrons spent some weeks in training and acclimatization for combat in this entirely new environment. After initial training in the Muscat area, they then moved to Tanuf and the area adjacent to Jebel Akhdar. The SAS soon developed a healthy respect for their enemy when one of their corporals, Douglas Swindell was fatally shot by a long-distance sniper in November 1958.

General Service Medal 1918-1962, awarded to Trooper Fred Hamer, Parachute Regiment and 22nd Special Air Service. He was severely wounded in Oman during the SAS attack on the Jebel Akhdar or Green Mountain.

The Assault

The constraints of time on this operation were acute. Because the Middle East including the matter of the war in Oman was due to be discussed at the UN General Assembly in April 1959, the rebels had to be defeated by then. For domestic political reasons, casualties also had to be kept to a minimum.  Of course, no British overseas military action would be complete without the dimwitted interference by out of touch officials or politicians in London. This operation was no exception to this rule.

A request was made to London for funds to purchase local donkeys to carry the SAS’ supplies and weaponry up the Jebel. London baulked at the cost of £40 per donkey and authorized the purchase of donkeys from Somaliland at £2 per beast. The result was that the forces in Oman received weak and flea-bitten animals that were incapable of carrying heavy loads up narrow mountain paths unlike the Omani donkeys. This prompted the comment from one of the soldiers involved that they had to carry the donkeys instead of those animals carrying their supplies and weaponry.

Smiley decamped from Muscat to Nizwa where a communications centre had been established to oversee the operation. Between the months of July to December 1958 there was heavy fighting between the British backed Sultan’s forces and the rebels. The RAF were also involved with air strikes. In the last week of December, there was particularly heavy fighting on the mountain itself between the rebels and the SAS.

The decisive assault on the southern side of Jebel Akhdar was set for the night of 25th January 1958. As a feint, all the donkey drivers were gathered together by the British. They were told under conditions of great secrecy that an attack on the northern side of the Jebel would take place on 25th January. Word rapidly got back to Talib Bin Ali who was tricked into believing this ‘attack’ was genuine. As a result he concentrated most of his forces on that area.

With each man carrying eighty pounds of kit, the SAS force embarked on the gruelling task of scaling the Jebel Akhdar. It was an operation that carried a high level of risk. Had they got their timing wrong or Talib had not been fooled they could well have faced the guns of the enemy on the lip of the plateau. These would have been considerable including .303 Lee Enfield rifles, light and heavy machine guns and mortars.

They also faced a formidable enemy force of about twelve hundred and fifty hardened fighters. The SAS  troops were backed up by a combined force of the Sultan’s regular troops including The Northern  Frontier Regiment, The Muscat Regiment and the Trucial Scots. In addition to this, two hundred Ibrayid tribesmen were called in to provide a diversion on the North side of the Jebel. Since this was the same tribe who had failed to show up during the battle of Bilad Sait, a question mark hung over their reliability in this operation.

During this night time operation, little opposition was encountered as the troops worked their way up the few narrow paths that led to the Jebel Akhdar plateau. At one stage, the SAS led by Major Watts, found it necessary to complete their journey by climbing the rock face of the Jebel. This meant jettisoning their rucksacks. However, it proved to be crucial to the success of the operation.

Just before dawn, the SAS force reached the edge of the plateau  and stormed it. The rebel forces were taken completely by surprise and scattered with barely a shot being fired. A wealth of material and information was found in the deserted cave that was Talib bin Ali’s H.Q. However, there was no sign of the three rebel leaders Ghalib and Talib bin Ali or Suleiman bin Hamyar. They had slipped away into the depths of the Omani interior. It took until 30th January of mopping up and securing various rebel hideouts to finally declare the Jebel to be in the hands of the Sultan’s Forces. After four and a half long years, The Jebel Akhdar War was finally over.

A fortnight after the successful operation, the British received reliable information that the three rebel leaders were hiding out in a house in a certain location in the Omani Interior. An operation was quickly planned to surround the building and take the three rebels prisoner. The commanding officer of The Sultan’s Northern Frontier Regiment was ordered not to interfere with this operation in any way. However, for reasons better known to himself, he ignored the order and embarked on a ham fisted attempt to capture the fugitives himself.

He knocked on the door and asked the owner of the house if the Imam was in. When the answer was no, he simply took this at face value and left. Reputedly, when Talib bin Ali who was hiding in the house asked Bin Hamyar if he should shoot “the stupid infidel”, the latter replied “No, he’s not worth it.”  Amen to that. The three leaders then escaped to exile in Saudi Arabia never to be apprehended.

In conclusion, this was undoubtedly  a ‘small’ war. However,  if Sultan Bin Taimur had lost,  it could have had serious implications for Britain and the West. In that case, the Imamate of the Omani interior, would probably have been absorbed into a separate anti-western state. The precious oil reserves at Fahud would have been fallen into ‘unfriendly hands’. The strategic coastline on the Straits of Hormuz would also have been up for grabs. This would have threatened Britain and the West’s access to a large part of the world’s oil.

Fortunately, thanks mainly to British military support, this did not happen. With the rebel forces defeated, the threat of the Imamate seceding no longer existed. Muscat and Oman had been drawn closer together as one country. However, this would prove to be a temporary reprieve as a far more serious danger to Oman’s survival and stability appeared on the horizon.

©  Nick Brazil 2022

Thank you to Nick for the use of his Colour photos 

About The Author

Nick Brazil is an author, film maker and photographer. He has made eight documentaries and numerous shorter videos for the internet. He has also published three books including “Cheating Death – The Story of a PoW” and “Billy Biscuit – The Colourful Life & Times of Sir William Curtis” which is the story of the man who coined the phrase “The Three Rs”. 
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