The Insurgency In Oman, 1962-1976
SUBJECT AREA Strategic Issues
Author: CHENEY, Stephen A., Major, U.S. Marine Corps
Title: The Insurgency in Oman, 1962 - 1976
Publisher: Marine Corps Command and Staff College
Date: 1 April 1984
The insurgency in Oman between 1962 and 1976 was not as
world renowned as perhaps the Viet Nam conflict; however,
its favorable result is one which should be recognized as a
total victory for the Western supported Sultanate of Oman
over the Communist inspired Popular Front for the Liberation
of Oman. Waged entirely in the province of Dhofar, the
British led and supported Sultan's Armed Forces eventually
were victorious, but not without serious early setbacks and
a coup that replaced the Sultan.
This paper addresses Oman and its strategic value,
providing the background for this counterinsurgency that
indeed had "great power" implications. The evolution of
organized resistance in Dhofar is detailed and later analyzed
according to its impact on the counterinsurgency campaign.
The growth of the Sultan's Armed Forces is included to pro-
vide a balance to the development of organized resistance.
The two are subsequently joined in a chapter outlining the
general conduct of the war.
The war is then analyzed in terms of popular support,
cohesion and organization, external support, the environ-
ment, and the effectiveness of the Government, as originally
put forth as a framework for analysis by Bard E. O'Neill in
Insurgency in the Modern World. The final result is that
the success enjoyed in Oman can be attributed to a new
sultan who would eventually enjoy popular support, to heavy
reliance on external support from many sources (particularly
Great Britain), and to utilization of the environment of
Dhofar to best advantage.
WAR SINCE 1945 SEMINAR
The Insurgency in Oman
1962 - 1976
Major Stephen A. Cheney, USMC
2 April 1984
Marine Corps Command and Staff College
Marine Corps Development and Education Command
Quantico, Virginia 22134
TABLE OF CONTENTS
1 Oman the Country 1
2 The Development of Organized Resistance
In Dhofar 13
3 The Sultan's Armed Forces 22
4 The Conduct of the War 1963 - 1976 29
5 An Analysis of the War 43
In the course of my study of Oman, several people were
most helpful. Without their assistance, this paper could
not have been written, and I would like to acknowledge their
Mrs. Bradshaw, at the Marine Corps Amphibious Warfare
School, was a most gracious administrative assistant and went
beyond the call of duty typing the many iterations of this
paper. Mrs. Porter, of the Breckinridge Library at the
Marine Corps Command and Staff College, was able to procure
many of the books and documents from around the country that
enabled me to conduct extensive research. Gunnery Sergeant
Davis, of the Marine Security Guard Battalion, promptly
offered all of the unclassified material that was available
from the State Department. Major Nick Pratt of the Center
for Strategic International Studies was kind enough to give
me complete guidance throughout the study and has provided
me with much data from his recent trip to Oman.
Lieutenant Colonel Bard O'Neill, USAF, at the National
War College provided an excellent analysis of Oman in the
fine book, Insurgency in the Modern World. In addition to
opening all of his files and research on Oman to me,
Lieutenant Colonel O'Neill provided video tapes on Oman. To
him I am especially grateful.
To the many others who lent a hand, thank you very much.
This was one of the 'little wars' in which British
servicemen have been engaged for centuries - most of
them, as this was, near the shores of the Indian
Ocean - and it was a model of its kind....Only those
who have been to Dhofar can fully appreciate the
severity of the conditions in which the polyglot
force fought and flew; at times extreme heat; at
others cold, wet, permanent cloud; and rugged
terrain, the equal of which it would be hard to find
anywhere....Those who fought there, including those
who were wounded or died, did not fight in vain.
As so appropriately stated by Lora Carver in the foreword of
Major General John Akehurst's We Won a War,1 the insurrec-
tion in the Dhofar province of Oman from 1962 until
termination in 1976 was a small war in contrast to the major
conflicts of the twentieth century. In the latter stages of
the war, the insurgents "had an estimated 800 hard-core
fighters and about 1000 part-time militia organized into
local groups."2 The Sultan's Armed Forces (SAF), on the
other hand, had swelled to over 13,000 strong, not including
the 18 tribal companies (averaging 100 men each) that existed
in support of the SAF in Dhofar. Beside these were another
700 advisors and seconded officers supplied by the
The central issue involved in the war was the repression
of the people of Dhofar by a despotic Sultan. Initiative
and leadership for the rebellion was supplied by communist
trained and inspired insurgents. These provided cohesion to
build a fairly formidable military force. Unfortunately for
the insurgents, however, the British-educated son of the
Sultan led a coup in 1970, producing a reversal in a
campaign that was promising solid success.
The Dhofar War was perhaps little recognized in the
United States at the time because it coincided with the
Vietnam contlict. American coverage of Vietnam far out-
shadowed the Dhofar War, and sources of information on the
conflict in Oman were, and still remain, predominantly
British. Added to its backwater reputation was a strong
seal of secrecy placed on the war. Not only the Sultan but
also the British engineered a policy "to not attract
publicity."4 Following the ouster of the Shah of Iran,
and considering the current instability in the Middle East,
Oman has emerged a key factor in resolving the complicated
equation comprising world-wide peace--Oman's prime location
and her recent history have modern strategists analyzing the
Dhofar rebellion with renewed vigor and utmost concern for
The significance of British involvement in the defense
of Oman between 1963 and 1976 cannot be over-emphasized.
Their "seconded" officers led the military effort, managing
the operational side of the war. The British, by 1965, had
become quite adept at handling insurgencies, and an example
of capabilities was demonstrated by some of the Special Air
Service (SAS) troops who were literally transferred directly
from the Malayan Emergency to Oman.
The structure for this analysis of the insurrection in
Dhofar requires that a step by step consideration of the
situation in Oman be followed. With that in mind, Chapter
1, titled "Oman - The Country," gives the general geographic
and historical background, and provides the setting for the
emergence of the war.
Chapter 2, "The Development of Organized Resistance in
Dhofar," details the growth of the communist-inspired
insurgents, explaining their philosophical foundation as
well as the significant "congresses" that were held. Chapter
3, "The Sultan's Armed Forces," describes how the military
force of Oman grew to the size that it is today.
Chapter 4, "The Conduct ot the War, 1963-1976," provides
an overview of the four phases of insurgency. Details
regarding specific movements or units or conduct of battles
are not provided here, in order to give the reader a general
appreciation for tne development of the campaign and the
significant tactical decisions that were made. If one
desires to go into more depth in regards to the battlefield
situation, two excellent books, We Won a War, by the British
commander of the Dhofar Brigade, and SAS: Operation Oman,
by the commander of the SAS squadron in Oman, are the best
Chapter 5, "An Analysis of the War," uses the six
variables employed in Insurgency in the Modern World to
facilitate an understanding of the insurrection. The
postscript focuses on the current relationship between Oman
and the United States and the value of the lessons learned
by Oman during the war.
There can be no doubt regarding the historical value of
the success in Oman. As Colonel Tony Jeapes states,
the Dhofar War was probably only the third campaign,
after Greece in the 1940s and Malaya in the 1950s
and 60s, to be won against a Communist armed insur-
rection....Perhaps the most important lesson to come
out of the Dhofar Campaign is that the 'historical
inevitability' of victory for Communist-inspired
revolutions was exploded as the myth it is.5
The historical precedent established by the war in Oman
should peak the interest of all professional military per-
sonnel of the United States. As was evidenced by Viet Nam,
the war in Dhofar typified the kind of laborious, search and
destroy, low intensity conflict in which we might soon be
involved. As Persian Gulf issues continue to maintain a
place on the front page, and as the war between Iran and Iraq
escalates, every Marine, Soldier, Sailor, and Airman will
want to study the pattern of victory followed by Oman's
judicious Sultan. The historical lesson from Oman cannot be
ignored. We must learn not only from those prior conflicts
that were unsuccessful, but from those that were successful
1John Akehurst, We Won a War (Great Britain: Michael
Russell (Publishing) Ltd., 1982), foreword.
2The Area Handbook for the Persian Gulf States, 1st
ed. (Washington, D. C.: U.S. Government Printing Office,
1977), p. 392.
3J. E. Peterson, Oman in the Twentieth Century (London:
Croom Helm, 1978), p. 191.
4Akehurst, p. "Disclaimers and Acknowledgements."
5Tony Jeapes, SAS: Operation Oman (London: William
Kimber & Co. Ltd., 1980), p. 14.
THE INSURGENCY IN OMAN - 1962-1976
OMAN THE COUNTRY
Oman is not well known to most Westerners. It has never
played a key role in any international situation involving
the United States and has, quite literally, remained moored
in a 17th Century culture and tradition ending only with the
ascension of Sultan Qaboos in 1970. However, Oman has been
thrust into a special kind of limelight as a consequence of
that almighty resource--oil. It is not in the production of
oil (Oman ranks 6th among Persian Gulf exporters with 363,000
barrels per day1) that Oman stands so vital, but in the
significant strategic location Oman possesses. Oman controls
the southern half ot the Strait of Hormuz (see map #1),
through which passes approximately 60% of the free world's
oil.2 The other half of the Strait, of course, is in the
hands of Iran.
Oman is the second largest nation on the Arabian Penin-
sula (next to Saudi Arabia). It has a total population of
approximately 1 million.3 Its land area is 100,000 square
miles (about the size of Colorado4) and it occupies the
southeastern tip of the Arabian Peninsula with 1,060 miles
of coastline. The general climate is hot and dry, and the
country is composed of almost 80% desert.5 The coastal
areas, especially in the north in the vicinity of Muscat,
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average 92oF in the summer, with a summer wind equivalent
to the California "Santa Ana" that can raise the temperature
nearly 20oF. Still, there are some distinct variances.
In the mountainous elevations, particularly in the al-Hajar
range, where peaks rise almost 10,000 feet in height,
temperatures may plummet below freezing. The province of
Dhofar, in the Southwest section of Oman, is unique in that
it has a summer monsoon period lasting from April until
October. This monsoon is created by winds from the Indian
Ocean, and much of the Dhofar coastal plain can become rather
tropical during the summer months. The largest city in
Dhofar is Salalah, and just 6 miles beyond Salalah the
coastal mountains (the Jabal al Qara) rise to 4,000 feet in
elevation. On the reverse slope of these mountains is a
gravel plateau that stretches into the "Rub al Khali" desert
section of Saudi Arabia.
Dhofar is of particular interest because it was here in
the 1960's that the "Dhofar Rebellion" was born. The
geography of Dhofar in relation to the remainder of Oman was
a significant factor for both sides during the conflict.
The rugged mountains comprising the Jabal al Qara of Dhofar
run from north of Salalah to the southwest some 150 miles to
the border witn the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen
The mountain range is separated from the north by a
desert plain of 400 miles, and the SE mountains are broken
up by deep valleys called "wadis." The border with the PDRY
is not on identifiable terrain, but it runs between the
Omani village of Sarfait and the PDRY town of Hauf. Dhofar
is thought to have a population of some 50,0006, although
an accurate census has never been taken. So, although the
province of Dhofar does not have specifically identified
borders, it is generally recognized to be limited by tne
desert plain northeast of the Jabal al Qara mountains, the
Rub al Khali section of Saudi Arabia to the Northwest, the
PDRY to the Southwest, and the Arabian Sea to tne Southeast
(see map #2).
TEE HISTORY OF OMAN
Oman is unique among Arab states in that it has main-
tained the "longest tradition of independence."7 Currently
an absolute monarchy, a patrimonial political system exists
under the rule of Sultan Qaboos bin Said (Sultan Qaboos).
Oman's history traces far back to the third millenium B. C.,
when ships called to export wood, copper and other
minerals.8 Two occurrences of the ancient past still have
a dramatic impact on current events in Oman. The arrival of
the "Azd" tribe from Saudi Arabia's Asir province, during
the sixth century A. D., provided a linkage from which the
current ruler, Qaboos, has descended.9 The embrace of
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Islam in approximately 632 A. D. by the Azd tribe eventually
led them to battle with the Persians for leadership of Oman.
This religious impetus gave rise to the ascendancy of the
"Imams," who long functioned as political figures within
state. Imams maintained power in Oman until the 1950s. The
Portugese invaded Muscat (the capital city) in 1508 and
remained until 1650, controlling the rich trade of the
Persian Gulf.10 After Portuguese fortunes declined, the
Omani economy was built almost entirely upon the slave trade,
doing business with former Portuguese possessions in East
Africa. Once the slave market collapsed in the 19th century,
Oman's economy plunged. Mr. Fred Halliday, in Arabia Without
Sultans, states that Oman "was driven back into the Middle
Ages by the advance or modern capitalism."11 Hailiday also
points out that the hasty decline of the Omani slave fueled
economy caused a rift between the ruling coastal communities
centered in Muscat and the tribes of the mountainous
interior. This relationship became so exacerbated that the
tribes formed an alliance against them.12 The tribes
rebelled and took over Muscat in 1868, but in 1871 the
British invaded and restored Sultan Al Bu Said to power.13
This was not, however, the first contact that Oman had
had with Great Britain. In 1820, the Sultan, Sayyid Said,
had received assistance from the British East India
Company.14 This led to a series of treaties stimulating
further British interventions in 1874, 1877, and 1883.15
The treaties of 1891, 1939, and 1951 were foundational for
the continuing Omani relationship with Great Britain.16
Oman was never a protectorate of Great Britain nor a part of
their colonial empire, unlike several other Arab states.
Britain's interest was related to the security of the Indian
trade as well as providing a link to colonies in the lower
In 1913, a new Imam was elected in the mountains. This
election was followed by an attack on Muscat in 1915. Again,
the British intervened, this time arranging a treaty between
the two warring factions (the 1920 Treaty of Sib). The
interior was to be ruled by the Imam, while the Sultan was
to retain sovereignty over larger affairs of the country.
This arrangement was satisfactory for all sides until 1954
when the Imam, Muhammad Abd Allah al Khalili, died, and was
succeeded by Ghalib bin Ali.
THE EMERGENCE OF THE MODERN INSURRECTION
By 1954, the son of Sultan Al Bu Said had ascended to the
throne. He was the infamous Said bin Taimur, and his notori-
ety stemmed from his iron-handed rule of Oman. He made Oman
a virtual island, totally removed from any external civiliza-
tion, and restricted Omanis from leaving the country. Taimur
was not an ignorant individual, as he had attended schools in
India. He spoke not only Arabic but English and Urdu, had
toured the world, and had met many Western leaders.18
During his tenure he
revealed a mastery of statecraft and an indiffer-
ence to public opinion worthy of the most dedicated
disciple of Machiavelli....like the princes of Italy,
Sultan Said relied increasingly on mercenaries to
sustain his position, and, as happened so often in
the time of Machiavelli, his betrayal by his merce-
nary officers ultimately caused his downfall.19
Taimur severely curtailed health services and education, and
limited imports so as to prohibit any contact with the 20th
century. Radios, trousers, cigarettes, books, and medicines
were just a few of the prohibited items in Oman.20 Taimur
discouraged development of his country, and suffered
declining popularity with his subjects.
Ghalib bin Ali, on the other hand, enjoyed widespread
support throughout the interior of Oman. Ali had solid
backing within his own Hina tribe and the Hinawi federation,
and also within the Bani Riyam tribe of the Ghafiri federa-
tion as well as of Sahib bin Issa in the south.21 Ali's
brother, Talib, was a powerful "wali" in the town of
Rostaq.22 It was during this crucial period that oil
became a prime factor in Omani internal affairs.
Following the Second World War, the discovery of oil on
the Arabian peninsula attracted the interest of much of the
free world. The undefined boundaries between Oman, Saudi
Arabia and Abu Dhabi suddenly became significant. A war
between Saudi Arabia and Oman had narrowly been averted by
the British in 1952 by adjudication as claims to the Buraimi
Oasis where an oil discovery was imminent (see map #3). In
October 1954 the town of "Ibri" was wrested by a small force
of the Sultan's army from the control of Ali to prevent his
occupation of Buraimi. This prodded Ali to declare the
interior of Oman independent, and apply for membership in
the League of Arab States.23 Taimur reacted by attacking
Ali and forcing him into subservience. In December 1955 the
Sultan's Armed Forces, with British assistance, attacked
Rostaq, capturing Ali. Taimur allowed Ali to retire to his
village following a pledge of fealty; however, Ali's brother,
Talib, escaped to Cairo via Saudia Arabia. Talib returned
in June 1957 and, declaring himself the new Imam of the
interior, renewed the rebellion. Fighting broke out in the
Jabal Akhdar (Green Mountain) area of northern Oman. The
Sultan finally put down the conflict after extensive
military reliance on British forces including over 300
British regulars and a detachment of the British Special Air
Service.24 The victory in January 1959 was not complete,
however, because all of the leaders, including Ali and
Talib, fled to Saudi Arabia. It was in Saudia Arabia where
the seeds of the insurrection in Dhofar would germinate.
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1"Oil States in Gulf Fear Threat to Vital Strait,"
Washington Post, 11 November 1983, p. A19. Oman's oil pro-
duction has been steadily increasing, despite predictions in
the mid and late 70s that their oil reserves would dwindle.
Oil accounts for 95% of their foreign trade (estimated at
$2.2 billion) according to the U. S. Department of State.
Current estimates indicate that Oman can produce oil at the
current rate for 20-25 years.
2"Tiny Oman Guards the Strategic Strait of Hormuz,"
Washington Post, 2 January 1980, p. A7. Percentages of the
free world oil passing through the Strait of Hormuz vary
according to source, although none list less than the 40%
that was quoted in the 24 September 1979 issue oi Newsweek,
3"Oman Post Report," U. S. Department of State Publica-
tion 9273, July 1982, p. 1. Population estimates vary
according to source. No official census has ever been taken
in Oman, although the Government of Oman lists 1.5 million
as the total population (see John Townsend, Oman: The Making
of a Modern State (New York, N. Y.: St. Martin's Press,
1977) p. l7). Some estimates are as low as 400,000.
4"Oman Post Report," p. 1. Another estimate of the
size of Oman is between "82,000 and 100,000 square miles, or
roughly the size of the state of Kansas." Source: Handbook,
5Tor Eigeland, "Oman: the Terrain," Aramco World
Magazine, May-June 1983, p. 10.
6Akehurst, p. 5.
7Bard E. O'Neill, Insurgency in the Modern World
(Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1980), p. 213.
8Oman '83 (Muscat, Oman: The Ministry of Information,
Sultanate of Oman, 1983) , p. 11.
9Paul Lunde, "Oman: a History," Aramco World Magazine,
May-June 1983, p. 5.
10"Neo-piracy in Oman and the Gulf," Middle East
Research Project (Washington, D. C.: 1975), p. 10.
11Fred Halliday, Arabia Without Sultans (New York, N.
Y.: Vintage Books, 1975), p. 282.
12Halliday, p. 282.
13"Neo-piracy in Oman and the Gulf," p. 1O.
14Lunde, p. 7.
15Lunde, p. 7.
16Handbook, p. 343.
17"Neo-piracy in Oman and the Gulf," p. 10.
18Halliday, p. 282, and Yousef Al Alawi (Foreign
Minister, Oman) in "The Oil Kingdoms," PBS TV, produced by
Jo Franklin-Trout, 1983.
19John Townsend, Oman: The Making of a Modern State
(New York, N. Y.: St. Martin's Press, 1977), p. 62.
20Halliday, p. 287.
21Handbook, p. 344.
22Townsend, p. 61. Walis were the government appointed
representative and were generally responsible for a specific
geographical area. Most had local ties, and many were
directly related to the Sultan. The power of a Wali varied
according to the backing he had of the inhabitants and of
23Handbook, p. 344.
24Townsend, p. 62.
THE DEVELOPMENT OF ORGANIZED
RESISTANCE IN DHOFAR
The seeds of insurgency blossomed into a full-scale war
in Dhofar. Musselim bin Nuffl, a leader of the "jebalis"
(the mountain people of Dhofar), met with Ali after the 1957
uprising and formed the basis for the insurrection in
Dhofar.1 A training base was establisbed in Iraq and
attacks were carried out on the vehicles and personnel of the
John Mecom-Pure Oil Company in 1963 and 1964 in Dhofar, where
an oil concession granted to the oil company was in
jeopardy.2 By this time, Taimur had permanently moved
from Muscat to Salalah, due to the moderate climate. It was
obvious that the inhabitants of Dhofar were not going to put
up with Taimur's neglect and abuse for much longer.
THE DLF - 1962-1967
In 1962 a semblance of organization emerged among the
insurgents. The Dhofar Charitable Association (DCA) was
established, ostensively as a cover for the Dhofar Libera-
tion Front (DLF). The DLF was associated with the Arab
Nationalist Movement (ANM), a Nasserist organization that had
branches in virtually every Arab state. The ANM was proving
to be a particularly effective organization, having sponsored
successful revolutions in the Yemens. However, their
expressed goal was to defeat British imperialism3 without
any ties to an Imam.
Two other groups, the Dhofar Benevolent Society (DBS) and
the Dhofari Soldiers Organization (DSO), were beginning to
form. Both operated underground in the vicinity of Salalah
until early 1965, when a shipment of men and arms from Iraq
and Kuwait was intercepted by the Iranians. As a conse-
quence, many of the insurgents in Oman were captured, and
those remaining fled to the mountains.4 They met at Wadi
at Kabir on June 1, 1965, to solidify the leadership of the
DLF and prepare plans for an extended campaign. That
meeting was declared the "First Congress" and produced a
the liberating of this country (Dhofar) from the rule
of the despotic Al Bu Said Sultan whose dynasty has
been identitied with the hordes of tne British
imperialist occupation.... This people (Dhofaris)
have long and bitterly suffered from dispersion,
unemployment, poverty, illiteracy and disease.... 5
The DLF also issued a three point manifesto stating,
a. The poor classes, the farmers, workers, soldiers
and revolutionary intellectuals will form the
backbone of the organization.
b. The imperialist presence will be destroyed in
all its forms--military, economic and political.
c. The (hireling) regime under its ruler, Said bin
Taimur, will be destroyed.6
It is important to note that at this point, in the infancy of
the DLF, the tribesmen of Dhofar were in control. The
"Nasserists," although they had a common goal with the
tribesman, were not in the majority. At this juncture, the
leftist leanings and lack of religious affiliation of the
DLF did not bother the Dhofaris because all they wanted was
to be rid of Taimur.
Although the DLF maintained offices in and received
limited support from Iraq and Egypt, little progress occurred
between 1965 and 1967. The DLF had divided Dhofar into three
sectors--Western, Central, and Eastern--in an attempt to
break up tribal boundaries. They recruited on an individual
basis and prosecuted their campaign with a "hit and run"
system, achieving little.
DLF TO PFLOAG - 1968-1971
The Arab-Israeli war in 1967 had significant impact on
the DLF, resulting in the "Second Congress" on September 1,
1968. A marked shift to the left towards Marxism occurred
at this congress. Almost the entire leadership of the DLF
changed hands, and the pro-Marxist Mohammad Ahmad al-Ghassani
became secretary.7 Some old leaders, including Musallim
bin Nuffl and Yusuf Alawi, did not agree with the changes
and promptly segregated themselves from the organization.
The Second Congress reviewed the entire approach to the
campaign, and blamed the lack of progress on the isolationist
strategy of the First Congress, as well as lack of
cohesiveness in revolutionary theory.8 The Second
Congress adopted three resolutions:
1. To adopt "organized revolutionary violence."
2. To change the DLF's name to the "Popular Front for
the Liberation of the Occupied Arabian Gulf"
3. To extend the scope of the revolution from Dhofar to
Oman and the emirates of the Gulf.9
It is at this juncture that the insurgency began to take on
an international flavor. The indigenous tribesmen lost out
as a controlling faction. Communist leanings trended to
stronger ties with the new revolutionary regime in South
Yemen, and garnered support from the Peoples Republic of
China, Iraq, and radical Palestinian organizations. After
liaison was made with the Soviet Union, several young
leaders attended school there.10 The situation was not
dissimilar to that faced by South Vietnam. A friendly
communist government immediately bordering the country
provided profuse supplies and safe havens for guerrillas.
The PFLOAG peaked during this period, and although they
might have attributed their success to cause and diligent
work, this was not quite true. Concurrent with their
increased strength, Sultan Taimur lurched toward even more
tyranny in governing the Dhofaris. Security was tightened
around cities; no Dhofaris were allowed to travel or to
serve in the Army. Food and supplies were held in the
coastal towns and blockaded from transport into the interior
of Dhofar.11 The obvious impact was increased popular
support for the PFLOAG in the countryside.
The PFLOAG began an intensive education program, taught
Arabic, and conducted political classes. The basis for most
instruction was the intellectual stream of Lenin, Marx, Mao,
and Che Guevara. A sizeable school in South Yemen (PDRY)
was established and, by 1973, 850 children had enrolled.12
They imported doctors and preached the equality of women.
During this period the PFLOAG was having success on the
battlefield as well, and was extending its control from the
western part of Dhofar into the coastal towns. The success
of the PFLOAG in Dhofar was not going without notice in the
remainder of Oman, and a "new" revolutionary group, the
National Democratic Front for the Liberation of Oman and the
Arabian Gulf (NDFLOAG), coalesced in the north. Shortly
after formation in early June 1970, they suffered a double
military setback at Nizwa and Izki. Most leading members
The significance of the NDFLOAG deteat could not be
assessed for several years. Soon after the defeat, the
Sultan (Taimur) was deposed in a coup by his son. Qaboos
struck on July 23, 1970, and although no official accounts
credit Great Britain as the instigator of the coup, many
feel that it was undoubtedly British intervention that
allowed Qaboos to take the throne.14 The creation of the
NDFLOAG and subsequent military involvement spurred the
British to take the preferred course and depose Taimur.
With splinter groups forming all over Oman and revolting
simultaneously against Taimur, it was obvious that military
action alone would not resolve the situation.
This chain of events turned the tide against the PFLOAG,
but at the time they had no idea that this occurrence would
alter their situation so drastically. Qaboos changed the
entire picture for the people of Dhofar by building schools
and hospitals, driling wells, and sharing out the oil
revenues--something that had never been done before in Oman.
New reforms led to the defection of many of the nonsocialist
members of the PFLOAG. The reaction of the PFLOAG was to
"dig in" and call for a Third Congress in June 1971.
"People's Councils" were appointed at this meeting,
ostensibly to govern the territory currently held and
bolster popular support. The insistence on the Marxist-
Leninist strategy was toned down in the hope of luring back
some of the defectors.15
PFLOAG TO PFLO - 1972-1976
In January 1972 the NDFLOAG joined forces with the
PFLOAG and launched a new military campaign. The first
major operation at Mirbat, in July 1972, was a major
disaster; many call it the downward turning point of the
campaign. The PFLOAG attempted to regain some initiative
with an extended terrorist and sabotage effort, but the
results were just as disastrous as at Mirbat.16 The
military initiative had shifted to the Sultan's armed forces,
and the PFLOAG not only began to decline on the battlefield
but in terms of public support as well. Importation of
Iranian troops by the Sultan increased the sense of panic and
urgency among the PFLOAG. A Fourth Congress convened in
January 1974, with hopes for reorganization and revitaliza-
tion. A faction within the PFLOAG demanded that all military
action in the Gulf be concentrated on Oman alone, and that
the PFLOAG pursue a strategy with Oman as its immediate
objective. Obviously, those factions from outside Oman did
not go along with this recommendation, and they consequently
split from the party. What was left in Oman called
themselves the Popular Front for the Liberation of Oman
As British and Iranian support for the SAF increased,
support for the PFLO from China and Yemen decreased. More
and more of the PFLO began to defect to the SAF, as the end
moved clearly in sight for them. The PFLO became powerless
to stop the counter invasion of Dhofar, and by mid 1975 all
but the far western sections of Dhofar had been retaken by
the SAF. By January 1976, PFLO guerrilla units had sought
refuge in South Yemen, virtually bringing hostilities
against the SAF and (man to an end. Although minor factions
of the PFLO remain active in Yemen today, the rebellion, for
all intents and purposes, was concluded in January 1976.
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10'Neill, p. 216.
2J. E. Peterson, "Guerilla Warfare and Ideological
Confrontation in the Arabian Peninsula: The Rebellion in
Dhufar," World Affairs, Vol. 139 No. 4 (Spring 1977), p. 280.
3Halliday, p. 327.
4Peterson, "Guerilla Warfare," p. 280.
5Townsend, p. 98.
6D. L. Price, Oman: Insurgency and Development,
Conflict Studies, No. 53 (London: The Institute for the
Study of Conflict, 1975), p. 18.
7Halliday, p. 378.
8Halliday, p. 378.
9Peterson, "Guerilla Warfare," p. 280.
10Handbook, p. 390.
11"Neo-piracy in (man," p. 14.
12Halliday, p. 386.
13Peterson, "Guerilla Warfare," p. 281.
14"Neo-piracy in Oman," p. 14.
15"Neo-piracy in Oman," p. 14.
16Handbook, p. 392.
17Peterson, "Guerilla Warfare," p. 284.
THE SULTAN'S ARMED FORCES
The evolution of the Sultan's Armed Forces (SAF) has,
with the exception of tribal dependence, taken place
entirely in the twentieth century. Prior to 1921, internal
conflicts waged between coastal and mountain communities were
fought by squabbling tribal elements. Occasional aid came
from Great Britain (see page 6). In April 1921, the Muscat
Levy Corps (MLC) was formed to take the burden off the
British whenever coastal tribes failed to measure up to
defense requirements. The first "Corps" was commanded by a
British Army Captain and reached the strength of a
reinforced company--approximately 200 men. This size varied
from less than 200 to, at times, 300.1 Functioning almost
solely as palace guard, they also assisted in road
building. In 1939 the British convinced the Sultan that the
MLC, then renamed the Muscat Infantry, be increased to two
companies, about 355 men. No combat action had yet taken
place, although the British were obviously attempting to
have tne Omanis arm as many troops as possible. The onset
of World War II was near. Fears in regard to Omani partici-
pation in the War never materialized, and the Muscat
Infantry remained an unproved military force.
When the crisis over the Buraimi oasis erupted in 1952,
the sobering realization that he nad no viable military arm
to defend his interests spurred the Sultan to expand the
size of the armed forces.2 The, Batinah Force was founded
at Suhar, followed shortly by the forming of the Muscat and
Oman Field Force (MOFF). The MOFF was created as a conse-
quence of oil exploration. The Petroleum Development (Oman)
Ltd (PDO) Company required armed escort while drilling in
the interior, and the MOFF was designed to fill the
bill.3 The company itself, which owned the oil concession
for Oman, provided funds to support the MOFF. Just a year
after formation, the MOFF saw action in Ibri, followed by
the ouster of Iman Ghalib bin Ali in Rostaq.4 A decline
in fortunes came shortly thereafter, when they lost a battle
in Sayt. Subsequently routed in the 1957 rebellion, the
MOFF suffered disbanding and reforming as part of the "Oman
The Sultan then commanded four separate and distinct
military units--the Batinah Force, the Muscat Infantry, the
Oman Regiment, and the Dhofar Force, which had been created
in 1955 of mostly local "jebelis." These forces were
consolidated into the Sultan's Armed Forces in 1958,5 with
a seconded British officer, Colonel David DeC. Smiley, as the
commander. In 1960 the Oman Gendarmerie was created with
headquarters at Suhar, followed by the birth of the Sultan
of Oman's Air Force (SOAF), containing three Provost T52
aircraft and two Pioneer aircraft.6 Tne Sultan of Oman's
Navy (SON) had a modest beginning at this time as well. In
1965, the Desert Regiment was formed.
In 1965 the Muscat Infantry and the Batinah Force (now
called the Northern Frontier Regiment (NFR)) were called down
to Dhofar to quell the rebellion. Prior to that time, the
only military in Dhofar was a "Dhofar Force," consisting of
local tribesmen (Jebelis). This force was entirely inade-
quate for their mission with effectiveness significantly
diminished after a few members attempted the assassination
of Sultan Taimur in 1966. Demise of the Dhofar Force
resulted in the creation of the Baluchi Southern Regiment,
which later provided two infantry battalions, composed
entirely (save British leadership) of Pakistanis.7
In 1971, the "Frontier Force" was created for service in
Dhofar, and the "Jebel Regiment" was created in Nizwa. The
SAF saw its greatest period of diversification in this year,
as the Artillery Regiment, Signal Regiment, Armoured Car
Squadron, Garrison Detachment, and Engineers' Unit were all
spawned. This response to the rebellion in Dhofar stimulated
the SAF to a total force size of over 13,000 men.8 In
1974, the addition of "Firqats," companies of approximately
100 men, made up almost entirely of defectors from the PFLO,
were added to the force. These units were trained by the
British Special Air Service, and by late 1974 over 18 of
them existed. The success of the firqats bolstered the
offensive power of the SAF, and their creation was the final
step in the growth of the military in Oman in response in
the insurrection in Dhofar. The swelling of their ranks was
a strong indication that the PFLO was failing and was a
decisive blow to the rebellion.
When the Sultan declared the war over on December 11,
1975, Oman's armed force had matured into an efficient,
combat hardened military organization. Oman has not let
this efficiency fade away. Today the forces number in
excess of 23,000 men and women. The Sultan of Oman's Land
Force (SOLF) contains 15,000 men, and has such sophisticated
weaponry as the TOW antitank missile and the M-60 main battle
tank. The Navy (SON) has doubled its number of ships since
1975, currently possessing 16 ships--with a manpower base of
1,000--armed with the Exocet missile. The Air Force (SOAF)
now has 350 officers, although 200 of them are British. They
have 37 Hunter and Jaguar fighter bombers. The Police of
Oman, with a uniformed strength of 7,000 men and women, are
responsible for manning the Coast Guard. Reliance in all of
the armed services, save the Police force, still rests with
tne British who provision senior officers.9 While Oman is
attempting to phase the British out, their officers corps
still lacks both experience and age needed for
responsibilities at that level.
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SULTAN OF OMAN'S LAND FORCE SULTAN OF OMAN'S AIR FORCE
-Muscat Infantry Regiment
-Baluchi Southern Regiment
SULTAN OF OMAN'S NAVY
-Northern Frontier Regiment
-Armoured Car Squadron
1J. E. Peterson, Oman in the Twentieth Century, p. 92.
2Peterson, Oman in the Twentieth Century, p. 92.
However, Townsend, p. 60 states that the Sultan had little
difficulty raising 8,000 tribesman to fight at Buraimi. The
British diffused the situation with a negotiated peace.
3Peterson, Oman in the Twentieth Century, p. 93.
4Handbook, p. 345.
5Akehurst, p. 31.
6Peterson, Oman in the Twentieth Century, p. 95.
7Akehurst, p. 33. Baluchis were recruited by the
British with the permission of the Pakistani government to
form the Baluch battalions. Oman had actually owned the
province of Baluchistan until 1958, when Pakistan bought it
8Peterson, Oman in the Twentieth Century, p. 96.
9"Police, Army, Navy, and Air Force of Oman," Journal
of Defense Diplomacy, November 1983, pp. 16-25. All of the
figures quoted in this paragraph are from this source.
ACTUAL CONDUCT OF THE WAR 1963-1976
FIRST PHASE: 1963-1967
The first hostilities in the Dhofar Rebellion occurred in
the spring of 1963 when Musselim bin Nuffl attacked an oil
company convoy and destroyed several vehicles, killing one of
the escorts.1 The DLF then began randomly attacking oil
company vehicles continuing through 1963 and 1964. On
August 14, 1964 one of their mines blew up an SAF
vehicle.2 This intensified the Sultan's reaction, result-
ing in the arrest of over 40 members in April and May of
1965.3 This precipitated the First Congress. On June 9,
1965, the DLF attacked a government patrol near Thamrit,
declaring that date as the official "beginning" of the
revolution.4 The initial line of demarkation circled
Salalah, as it was the intent of the SAF to deny the DLF use
of the city and its port facilities. To this extent they
were successful because they entirely isolated the city from
all land avenues of approach.
The DLF continued to practice limited guerrilla action,
and nearly succeeded in assasinating Sultan Taimur on April
26, 1966, when one of his Dhofari body guards demonstrated a
lack of marksmanship by missing a clean shot at the Sultan
from only a few feet away. Small skirmishes occurred at
Taqa and Mirbat (autumn of 1965) and patrol sized battles
took place in Wadis Nahiz, Hardom, and Jarsis northeast of
Salalah.5 None of these events resulted in anything
decisive, except that a company sized attack in July 1966 at
Raydat at Kala, killed or wounded 59 of the SAF.6
SECOND PHASE: 1967-1970
Events soon escalated. In 1967 freshly earned oil
revenues began to pour into the Sultan's treasury, giving
Taimur new flexibility to buy and equip a modern military.
Equally important to the DLF was the declared independence
of South Yemen (or, the Peoples Democratic Republic of Yemen,
formerly known as Aden) in December 1967. This provided the
DLF with a perfect safe haven and a resupply area. As the
Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China became active
supporters of South Yemen, the DLF incurred substantial
resources from its new sponsor. The year 1967 marked the
first offensive action to be taken by the SAF. British led
units of company size attacked the coastal city of Dhalqut
and attempted to establish a security line near the western
border in order to cut off the flow of supplies to the DLF.
The attempt failed. All the positions established came
under increasing and persistent pressure and were unable to
defend themselves. Collapse of a position at Rakhyut in
August of 1968 left the SAF with a solitary stronghold in
The DLF by now had changed its name to the PFLOAG, and
had proposed near term military goals:
1. Control of the Salalah-Thumrait Road ("The Red Line")
2. Capture of the Salalah Air Base
3. Control of the Eastern Province8
In February 1970 they were actively pursuing these goals, and
were snelling Salalah. "The Red Line" had been severed, and
another dissident group was forming in the north, encouraged
by the success on the PFLOAG. Undoubtedly, the PFLOAG was
at its zenith.
THIRD PHASE: 1970-1973
The turning point of the entire insurgency occurred on
June 12, 1970, when the NDFLOAG attack on Nizwa and Izki in
the north failed. This action provided impetus for British
encouragement of a coup. On July 23, 1970, Sultan Qaboos
displaced his father. At the time of his rise to the
throne, the state of affairs in Oman was dismal. The only
prospect for saving the country from total chaos was the
steady influx of petrodollars. Most of that income was
going either to defense or directly into the Sultan's
treasury. Virtually nothing was being spent in regards to
public welfare. As an example of the retarded condition of
the country, in 1970 the entire country had "only one
doctor, three elementary schools, and less than 10 miles of
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Qaboos brought a breath of fresh air to Oman. He con-
sidered himself an equal opponent to his father's program as
the PFLOAG. He began with a "five point" plan to:
1. Offer general amnesty to all those of his subjects
who had opposed his father.
2. End the archaic status of Dhofar and its formal
incorporation into Oman as the "southern province."
3. Provide effective military opposition to those
rebels who did not accept the amnesty offer.
4. Start a vigorous nation-wide program of development.
5. Start a diplomatic initiative with the aim of having
Oman recognized as a genuine Arab state with its own
legal form of government and isolate the PDRY from
receiving support from other Arab states.10
It must be understood that Sultan Qaboos was not only an
educated man but one who had a strong personal interest in
promoting Dhofar. Born in Salalah, he had been at Sandhurst,
and had served with the British Army for a short period.
Upon returning from Europe in 1966, his father placed
him under house arrest, claimed that he had been corrupted
by his studies in England, and upon hearing strains of
Gilbert and Sullivan echoing in the palace, destroyed all of
his son's records.11 Qaboos keenly resented many of the
same tyrannical practices that the general public suffered.
His five point plan was ingenious and probably a product
of British assistance. The amnesty package was unique,
offering the defector a cash grant (more if the man brought
his weapon with him), re-arming him, and hopefully
resettling him into his original tribal location. The
individual was then placed in a "firqat," or the tribal
militia.12 Militia units were usually of company size and
operated in conjuction with a British detachment. Formal
recognition of Dhofar at least gave Dhofaris some status.
The start of urban development was clearly in line with
demands of the PFLOAG. Diplomatic initiatives resulted in
the entrance of Oman into the United Nations in October
The PFLOAG's response to the new Sultan was to step up
attacks on "The Red Line," even though they were feeling the
bitter sting of increased bombing by British pilots. In May
1971 they had squashed every post on "The Red Line." The SAF
response was the launching of Operation Jaguar in October
1971. Jaguar was an SAF operation led by SAS troops that
involved an attack to the east of Salalah with the hopes of
eventually establishing a line across the jabal that would
block the flow of supplies to the east. The principle was
to divide Dhofar into sectors and clear each sector with the
creation of a series of strongpoints that would deny the
enemy access to the area.14 Operation Jaguar initially
appeared successful. But, in order to maintain a position
on the jabal, strong reliance had to be placed on the air
superiority that the SAF enjoyed. The next tactic was to
commence a similar excursion to the west, hence the birth of
Operation Simba in May 1972. If Operation Jaguar had
obtained limited success, Operation Simba was much the
same. Simba was a post on the FDRY border, and the Muscat
Regiment was tasked with its capture. They succeeded in
this challenge. However, the overall plan had included
creation of a series of outposts along the border to prevent
the PFLOAG from obtaining supplies. The outcome of the
operation was establishment of a single post at Simba.
Further offensive action proved futile.15
The PFLOAG was becoming a worthy adversary. To the shock
of the British, they placed an artillery round squarely into
the officers' mess at Salalah in June 1972, and wounded
several. This attack was closely followed by dual assaults
on Mirbat and Taqa in July. The attack on Mirbat was disas-
trous, with about 20% of the 250 aggressors killed.16 The
defense had been remarkable, as the SAF had had only 100 men
defending.17 The incursion into Taqa was also repulsed,
compounding the results from Mirbat, and the PFLOAG had two
At this juncture the PFLOAG resorted to terrorist
tactics in the north, but, before any extreme acts could be
accomplished, SAF security forces detected their activities
and arrested more than 90 of those involved along with
impounding an extensive arsenal.
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Fourth Phase: 1973 - 1976
During this period Sultan Qaboos took to heart the third
point in his five point plan--to provide an effective
military opposition to those rebels who did not accept the
amnesty offer. The military force doubled to over 10,000,
and foreign aid poured in.18 Iran provided a large force
(1,200 men) which, in its first military operation, occupied
"The Red Line." The PFLOAG sensed a shift in momentum, and
convened a Fourth Congress in January 1974 (see page 19).
This meeting had a miserable effect, caused a party split,
and produced the rump PFLO.
The SAF now stood ready to employ a firm policy of
containment. In January 1974 SAF began construction of the
Hornbeam Line, which "stretched inland 50 miles from
Mughsayl on the coast and roughly twenty miles west of The
Red Line."19 The obvious intent was to restrict movement
of the enemy and his supplies, which is exactly what it
did. The conquest of Dhofar was almost in sight.
The estimated strength of the PFLO in 1974 was 1,800 men,
including part-time militia. Divided into 100 man companies,
they were then assigned to a regiment (which was really a
battalion) in respective sectors. They were well equipped
with Soviet armament, including the 60, 81, and 82mm
mortars, the AK-47 rifle, and the Soviet Katyvsha 122mm
rocket.20 Even with this kind of armament, they were not
a match for the strengthening SAF.
By the end of 1974, the Hornbeam line, reinforced with
sensors, barbed-wire, and mines, had limited PFLO activity
in Dhofar to only the western sector. The firqats were
improving. By the close of the year there were 18 of them
varying in size from 50 to 150 men. Civil Action Teams
(CAT) had been created to assist firqats in developing their
localities, to include well-drilling, building medical and
schooling facilities, and establishing a location for local
governments.21 The SAS frequently sent advisors to the
firqats. From them the firqats developed a fine sense for
In the fall of 1974 the SAF had established themselves at
Sarfait, and a joint operation was underway to recover
Rakhyut. On January 5, 1975, the town was taken, despite
heavy casualties to the attacking Iranian force.22 Rakhyut
was to be the basis for the next sector, and the Damavand
Line was created. Its design and operation was virtually
identical to the Hornbeam Line, and it was equally
Qaboos's point five was making dramatic headway by this
time. Not only was Oman receiving customary support from
Great Britain, but financial aid was soon flooding in from
the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. Jordan and the
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UAE both provided small troop units, which were used to
relieve units in the north so they could fight in Dhofar.24
The SAF began a final assault in Dhofar in the fall of
1975. The Iranians handled the coast while the SAF continued
to attack remaining PFLO units in the west. There was
surprisingly little opposition. By December all that
remained was well scattered resistance. On December 11,
1975, Sultan Qaboos declared that the Dhofar war was
In the ensuing months several Arab states established
diplomatic relations with Oman and Yemen. Iraq, a former
supporter of the PFLO, established an embassy in Muscat.
Shortly after, Saudi Arabia did the same in Yemen. In this
way a foundation was laid to separate the PFLO from Yemen.
Qaboos wisely renewed his offer of amnesty. Over 332 PFLO
took advantage of the new opportunity by May 1976.25
An agreement with Yemen was not formally reached until
October of 1982.26
1Price, p. 4.
2Townsend, p. 97.
3Price, p. 4.
4Peterson, "Guerrilla Warfare," p. 280.
5Halliday, p. 330.
6Halliday, p. 330.
7Halliaay, p. 336.
8Halliaay, p. 336.
9John Duke Anthony, "Oman: Stable and Strategic,"
Journal of Defense Diplomacy, November 1983, p. 14.
10Townsend, p. 101.
11"Oman: Emerging from the Dark Ages," Time, 4 June
1979, p. 37.
12Townsend, p. 102.
13Handbook, p. 346.
14Peterson, "Guerrilla Warfare," p. 282.
15Peterson, "Guerrilla Warfare," p. 283.
16Handbook, p. 393.
l7Tony Geraghty, Inside the Special Air Service
(Nashville: Battery Press, 1980), p. 125. At Mirbat was a
"BATT" (British Army Training Team) comprised of 10 SAS
personnel, along with 30 Askaris from northern Oman, a
"Firqa" of about 40 men, and 25 men from the Dhofar
18Handbook, p. 393.
19Peterson, "Guerrilla Warfare," p. 284.
20Handbook, pp. 392-393.
21Handbook, pp. 394-395.
22Akehurst, p. 85.
23Peterson, "Guerrilla Warfare," p. 284.
24Handbook, p. 396.
25Handbook, p. 397.
26"Interview: H. M. Sultan Qaboos bin Said," Journal of
Defense Dipomacy, November 1983, p. 11.
AN ANALYSIS OF THE WAR
Professors O'Neill, Heaton, and Alberts discussed in
Insurgency in the Modern World six general variables
important to insurgent strategy. These are popular support,
organization, cohesion, external support, the environment,
and the effectiveness of the government.1 An examination
of these variables can illustrate concrete reasons for the
counterinsurgency success in Dhofar.
Popular support for the insurrection in Dhofar had roots
plunging back to the sixth century when the Azd tribe first
embraced Islam. The subsequent ascendancy of the Imams,
patterned on the figure of Ghalib bin Ali, figured
prominently in the Dhofar rebellion of the 1960s. Religious
backing in the formative stages of the latest rebellion was
absolutely necessary to the cause, but would later prove to
be detrimental when the DLF would announce that their aim
was to defeat British Imperialism, without any ties to an
"Imam." The DLF, who had relied on this natural rivalry
between the Imam led interior tribes and the coastal
community, cut off this tie in 1967 by repudiating any
religious affiliation at their second Congress.
It is obvious that even without the organization of the
DLF in the early 1960s that the general populace of Dhofar
(and other interior sections of Oman) desired some kind of
change in government. Ghalib bin Ali precipitated the
process when he met with Musselim bin Nuffl following the
1957 crisis. Enlisting support to overthrow Sultan Taimur
in Dhofar was a simple task, as the majority of the tribes-
men saw little, if any, advantages to the "status quo." The
promised complete reforms by the DLF were attractive. The
Dhofaris were not particularly concerned with Marxist-
Leninist doctrines professed by the DLF, and at this
juncture continued to openly practice religious beliefs.
Opposition to the DLF, at least from 1962 until 1965, was
not overt, primarily because the DLF's goals coincided with
those of the local populace. During this formative stage,
the few battles staged were on the "hit and run" level.
Consequently, not many locals or the SAF got involved.
This "First Phase" of the insurgency was one in which
the inhabitants of Dhofar were poised in passive defense.
In 1966, Salalah was cordoned off by the SAF. This
virtually isolated the port from inland trade with the
Dhofaris.2 This incensed not only the Dhofaris, but the
inhabitants of Salalah as well, curtailing the livelihoold
of many of the tradesmen. By this time, the DLF had
sufficiently aroused the people to form a solid base of
support and to launch into the "Second Phase."
Public support justifiably increased by the time of the
convening of the "Second Congress" in 1967. The insurgency
birthed the "Second Phase" with an affirmation for organized
revolutionary violence.3 Taimur's tyranny generated the
largest part of the PFLOAG's popular support. Concurrent
with the new congress, the Sultan, as if on cue, promptly
commenced a bold series of crackdowns on Dhofaris,
restricting both travel and trade.4 Objectives announced
by the PFLOAG were followed and began to see some progress
in the insurgency.
PFLOAG adherence to the ideologies of Marx and Lenin
began to grip the public, yet the repression of Islam was
not popular. Those who openly voiced opposition to the
PFLOAG often became subjects of terrorism.5 Still, the
creation of revolutionary schools and appearance of doctors
was physical evidence that the PFLOAG would support its
promises of an improved society.
As pointed out earlier, the PFLOAG was actually at its
zenith in 1970. This success was not unnoticed by the
British controlled SAF. The coup by Sultan Qaboos in July
1970 made the greatest singular impact on popular support
The true test of the allegiance of the Dhofaris backing
for the PFLOAG came after Qaboos issued his five point plan
in 1970. The first point was an offer of general amnesty to
all those who had opposed Taimur. To those who sincerely
ascribed to the ideology of the PFLOAG, it would have made
little or no difference that Sultan Qaboos had assumed the
throne. The form of government was still imperialism with a
continued reliance on the British, and the stated goal of
destroying the imperialist military, political, and economic
presence would not be near fruition for the PFLOAG.
Regardless, the people were willing to give Qaboos a try.
In the mind of the inhabitants, an opportunity had sprung
up to change what they desired without resorting to the
violence that they had become accustomed to over the course
of some seven years. The Surrendered Enemy Personnel (SEP)
program as issued by Qaboos was the initial vote of confi-
dence by the government in the people of Dhofar. The mere
fact that Qaboos had overthrown his father gave rise to the
hope that perhaps Qaboos was not going to be the typical
repressive Sultan. Despite propaganda to the contrary the
SEPs were treated with great respect and not interrogated.6
In many instances, those who were considering coming over to
the government side were actually allowed to literally
infiltrate the firqats and watch all the activities,
remaining almost totally ignored by all who were performing
their daily duties. When the individual came to realize
that no harm was in the offing, he often stayed and joined.
It was not long before this word spread throughout Dhofar,
and the PFLOAG absorbed a fatal blow.
For those who doubted that Qaboos would actually provide
a nation-wide program of development, an immediate visible
sign was made with the incorporation of a medical officer
and a veterinarian into SAS teams sent into the interior of
Dhofar.7 Point by point, almost every issue brought out
in the proclamation by the DLF in their First Congress in
1965 was being promptly and efficiently dealt with by
Qaboos. Taimur had been deposed, disease was being treated,
poverty being countered with petrodollars, and education was
It is important to note at this point that there was a
distinct difference in the goals of the typical inhabitant
of Dhofar and the goals of the hard core insurgent. The
Dhofari desired various changes and sought improvements to
his living conditions, yet the practice of Islam must con-
tinue. There was really no sincere desire to overthrow the
Sultan, only to improve living conditions. Consequently, the
Dhofari followed a reformist insurgency, while the PFLO was
trying to cultivate a revolutionary insurgency.8 Diver-
gence in goals was never overcome by the PFLO. Although the
Dhofaris had not obtained immediate satisfaction after the
coup in 1970, they were actually quite willing to give the
new Sultan the benefit of at least a trial performance. The
ultimate reaction of the PFLO was to resort to terrorist
tactics to ensure loyalty, but as the SEP program became
more successful, terrorist tactics had reverse effects in
Dhofar, and solidified opposition to the PFLO.
Another factor in achieving popular support by the PFLO
was tribal unity. The tribal system had existed in Dhofar
for hundreds of years, and most Dhofaris were not readily
willing to shed such support structures overnight, least of
all for a Marxist-Leninist system. Failure of the PFLO to
recognize tribal boundaries and utilize them to their
advantage further diminished their popular support. Although
members of the PFLO had enough education to understand
communist ideology, tne Dhofaris, on the whole, had little
or no education, and could not recognize the value of the
system that the PFLO was attempting to impose. The PFLO, as
has been stated, sent much of the populace to schools, but
this process did not become totally operational until 1973,
by which time Sultan Qaboos had instituted many of the
changes that would counter the arguments of the PFLO.
The inability of the PFLO to mobilize popular support
following the ascendancy of Sultan Qaboos struck a fatal
note that inevitably cost them any chance of success.
Cohesion and Organization
One of the most critical elements to cohesion and
organization is leadership, and in its genesis the Dhofar
Liberation Front was amply endowed with leaders. Ghalib bin
Ali, of the Hina tribe, his brother Talib, and Musselim bin
Nuffl, of the jebalis, all had strong tribal support and were
indeed the initial leaders. Yet the DLF alienated these
leaders, and during the Second Congress most of them
(including Nuffl) abandoned the communists due to DLF
opposition to tribes and Islam.
The DLF exacerbated their lack of tribal support by
organizing military and political system based on crude geo-
graphical divisions of Dhofar.9 Their Eastern, Central,
and Western sectors crossed several tribal boundaries and
combined groups that were normally segregated. As has been
earlier stated, the SAF did just the opposite, basing the
SEP program on Firqats that maintained tribal integrity.
This program was well accepted by the Dhofaris. Had the DLF
organized initially along tribal boundaries they might have
had greater success. It must be recognized that the tribal
system simply did not translate into the Marxist-Leninist
pattern. Nonetheless the DLF could have used the tribes to
their advantage early in the campaign and, having once
gained military superiority over the SAF, reorganized later
according to communist philosophy.
It was obvious during the initial stages of the insur-
rection that the leadership was not aggressive in pursuing
military objectives. Lack of progress towards these goals
eventually led to a Second Congress in 1968. It was at this
juncture that the DLF shed itself of most of the original
tribal leaders, and embarked upon a course that leaned far
more towards Marxism. The success of the new PFLOAG party
to achieve victory on the battlefield probably led them into
a false sense of security in regards to their own leadership
and cohesion. Although most certainly much of the credit
must go to the new ruling faction, undoubtedly, as has been
stated on page 16, this period coincided with Taimur's latest
purge of rights for the citizens of Dhofar. The unity of
the people against the rule of Taimur was unanimous, but
their unity in support of communism was only superficial.
Not until Sultan Qaboos's five point plan was released
did PFLOAG begin to realize the specialized allegiance of
the Dhofaris. Defections that occurred in ever increasing
numbers were true indicators of a lack of leadership,
cohesion, and unity within PFLOAG ranks. Terrorism failed
to maintain the discipline of their force was the last
resort for a fleeting cause.
The lack of dynamic leadership and the failure to
recognize the tribal allegiance of the commoner were just
two more factors that caused the downfall of the PFLO.
External support played a key role for both sides during
the insurgency. Initial support of Saudi Arabia and Egypt
provided safe havens for Ghalib bin Ali and his brother
Talib, sheltering the spark that started the fire of
revolution. The alignment of the DLF with the Arab
Nationalist Movement was further proof to the Dhofaris that
external support was available to prosecute their war. The
fact that the ANM had been successful in Yemen provided yet
another incentive for tne DLF to proceed with their First
Congress. The PDRY (South Yemen) was to be the greatest
supporter of the revolution and, in fact, today still
harbors members of the PFLO.
The recognition of the PFLOAG's success in the late
1960's galvanized the Soviet Union and the Peoples Republic
of China to provide more impetus for military development.
Without this kind of external support it is doubtful that
the PFLOAG would ever have been as successful as they were
Of the six variables used for this analysis, external
support was undoubtedly the strongest support prop for the
PFLO. Safe havens provided by the PDRY, military supplies
and training given by the Soviet Union and China, and the
support the ANM all provided a sufficient base to support
operations for the insurgency.
However, in terms of external support, the Sultan's
Armed Forces had a distinct advantage. Military aid
provided by Great Britain significantly outweighed that
provided by the communist block countries to the PFLO. If
an analogy can be drawn between the success of the PFLO
(between 1968 and 1971) and their communist supporters, then
certainly a similar comparison can be drawn between the
ultimate success of the SAF and the support provided by the
British. By the termination of hostilities, the British had
over 700 active duty military on duty in Oman, solely in
support of the SAF.10 Britain was the primary source for
their military arsenal as well.11 The augmentation of
troops from Iran (at least 1,200), Jordan (an engineering
battalion), and the United Arab Emirates (a detachment of
garrison troops) provided the SAF with an overwhelming
superiority in numbers.
The British provided necessary leadership that the PFLO
lacked. Experienced officers proffered sound tactical
advice to the SAF and were the critical factor in the
effectiveness of the entire campaign. While external
support was not so critical to the failures of the PFLO, it
was indeed the consummate factor in the winning as far as
the SAF was concerned.
The environment, although not a decisive factor in the
war, undoubtedly had a significant effect on both sides.
Geography initially proved advantageous to the rebels. The
sheer isolation of Dhofar allowed the DLF to run free
without opposition. Since principal modes of transportation
were quite simply either by foot or by animal (mule or
camel), and there were no paved roads, the extremely rugged
mountainous terrain in much of the area obviously favored
the defender. The barren Rub al Khali desert provided a
natural border, just as did the desert northeast of the
Jabal al Qara mountains.
These borders certainly provided the rebels with some
sense of security during the initial stages. It was to cause
them grave concern, however, in the later stages of conflict.
The British rapidly ascertained that the PFLO was indeed
limited by these borders. Hence, although Dhofar is a large
province, the SAF could swiftly concentrate a full effort
there. The basic strategy of the SAF was to literally divide
Dhofar into sections and conquer the PFLO piece by piece.
The Hornbeam and Damavand lines effectively achieved this
and, with the well defined borders on every side except to
the southwest, the PFLO was left with no options but escape
to the PDRY.
The monsoon season in Dhofar favored the insurgents, of
course. As the SAF undoubtedly had air superiority, the
monsoon season negated this advantage. Had it not been for
the monsoon season, it is possible that the insurgency might
have ended much sooner after Sultan Qaboos's takeover than
it did. As with the geography, the monsoon was peculiar to
Dhofar, and these two factors, while affecting the campaign
in Dhofar so significantly, would not have had a similar
influence had the PFLO occasioned to expand the war into
northern sections of Oman. In essence, the PFLO was too
limited in objectives within Dhofar. External supplies were
unable to provide significantly more personnel and weapons
to provoke a wider war.
The environment, as with external support, offered
advantages and disadvantages to both sides. In the long
run, however, the SAF used the environmental setting to best
Effectiveness of the Government
When the final result is successtul, it can be assumed
that the government was effective. Yet, when it takes over
a decade to quell such an insurgency, with a force of over
13,000 versus an insurgent force of perhaps 1,000, one
cannot state that the Sultanate was particularly efficient
in obtaining its victory.
Throughout the First Phase of the war, from 1963 until
1967, there is little doubt that the SAF was both ineffective
and powerless to prevent hit and run types of action. Lack
of response from the SAF stemmed from many factors, the most
important being the inability of Sultan Taimur to recognize
the desperate plight of his people. Particularly in Dhofar
was his failure to substantially increase the size of his
military force of consequence. The SAF cannot be faulted
for their failure to stop the PFLOAG offensive by early 1970.
They simply did not have sufficient assets to conduct a
search and cordon type operation of the entire province of
Dhofar. Of course, the British recognized this failure, and
following the NDFLOAG attack in June 1970, had Taimur
removed via a bloodless coup and installed his son, Qaboos,
as the new Sultan.
Qaboos, with British assistance, can be given a great
deal of credit for simply allowing common sense tactics to
prevail. Reform development programs not only boosted
Dhofar, but uplifted the entire country as well. Without
cultivating popular support he would have been a failure.
His five point plan, judiciously applied, caused the popular
tide to rapidly shift in his favor, quickly correcting the
two failings of his father--recognizing the plight of his
people, and increasing the size of the military. He did not
interfere with the conduct of military operations, allowing
the seconded British officers to run a tidy and
uncomplicated military campaign. It is possible that, had
Qaboos assumed the throne earlier in the campaign, the
successful conclusion of the Sultanate's military effort
would have occurred considerably earlier.
Qaboos's skill at diplomatic relations solidified his
country's position not only with the other Arab states but
with the world as well. Oman was admitted to the U.N. in
October 1971, a little over a year after his assumption of
the throne.11 His ability to cooperate with Saudi Arabia,
Jordan, and the United Arab Emirates eliminated a part of
the base of support for the PFLO. His later initiatives
with Yemen have ensured that the PFLO will not return to
Success of the SAF in the insurection in Dhofar can be
attributed to several factors:
- Swaying popular support to the side of the Sultan.
- Maintaining the cohesion and organization of the
SAF while the PFLO virtually disintegrated.
- Relying heavily on the external support,
particularly from Great Britain.
- Utilizing the environment, with the isolation of
Dhofar, to their advantage.
- Ensuring that the Sultanate maintained its
effectiveness through increasing the military and
The failure of the PFLO can be attributed to several
- Failure to maintain popular support.
- Lack of leadership and organization, and failing
to recognize tribal loyalties and boundaries.
- Lack of sufficient, prolonged external support.
- Failure to adequately use tne environment to their
- Failure to counter the Government's initiatives in
regards to social reform, the SEP program, and the
This unique war, despite its ultimate success, still took
over ten years to end and involved thousands of men against
a relatively small opposing force. Nonetheless, it is still
to the credit of the British, and Sultan Qaboos, that
success was achieved.
It is obvious from recent military operations involving
the United States that many of the factors relevant to the
success in Oman are applicable to today's wars as well. In
Grenada, for example, success would have been far more
difficult without popular support. The landing of a
numerically superior force was absolutely necessary to
ensure victory. The locals in Grenada could not have
succeeded without external support, and continuing social
reform will ensure that the island remains out of the hands
of the communists. The cohesion and organization demon-
strated by the British led SAF set an example that still
needs to be followed in this country--we have shown a lack
of both in many of our "joint" operations. Point for point,
the Dhofar War gives us a valuable line of departure for
1O'Neill, p. 5.
2Halliday, p. 332.
3Peterson, "Gueriila Warfare," p. 281.
4"Neo-piracy in Oman," p. 14.
50'Neill, p. 221.
6Jeapes, p. 37.
7Jeapes, p. 31.
8O'Neill, p. 3. O'Neill identifies six types of
insurgent movements: secessionist, revolutionary,
restorational, reactionary, conservative, and reformist. He
defines a revolutionary insurgent as one who "seeks to
impose a new regime based on egalitarian values and
centrally controlled structures designed to mobilize the
people and radically transform the social structure within
an existing political community." In contrast, the
reformist insurgent "attempts to obtain more political,
social, and economic benefits without necessarily rejecting
the political community, regime, or authorities....they are
primarily concerned with policies that are considered
9"Neo-piracy in Oman," p. 13.
10Peterson, Oman in the Twentieth Century, p. 191.
11Peterson, Oman in the Twentieth Century, p. 192.
12Handbook, p. 346.
Oman has not forgotten the lessons she learned during the
Dhofar War. As stated on page 25, her armed forces have
reached unprecedented levels. Sultan Qaboos will not repeat
the error that his father made by his failure to maintain an
adequate military posture. It would appear that the Sultan
has taken his five point plan of 1971 as a general guideline
for recovery in his country.
Dhofar was indeed recognized as a province, and has
enjoyed continued development along with the remainder of
Oman. In 1970 there were only 3 public schools in Oman; in
1981, there were 365.1 The Sultan has ensured that an
adequate military force is on hand, and although the threat
from the PFLO has diminished significantly, South Yemen
still maintains a formidable force on Oman's southeastern
border. There are nine infantry battalions, 60 Soviet-made
tanks, and an expanded runway just over the border in
Yemen.2 This presence has kept the SAF on its toes as
they maintain an increased defense posture in Dhofar. "While
the rest of the world's attention is generally focused on
the eastern part of Oman, especially the enclave on the
Strait of Hormuz...officials in Muscat regard the real danger
as coming from the south."3 Oil had now been discovered in
marketable quantities in Dhofar, and it is estimated that 20%
of Oman's future production will emanate from that province.
Oman is now a member in good standing of the Gulf
Cooperation Council (GCC), an organization of six Gulf
nations (Oman, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, and the
United Arab Emirates.) The GCC is dedicated to maintaining
collective security and their police and intelligence organi-
zations work closely together.4 Undoubtedly, Oman has
come a long way since Sultan Qaboos issued his five point
plan with the aim of having Oman recognized as a genuine
Arab state. Since its formation in May 1981, the GCC has
provided a valuable forum for all its members to solve
interstate conflicts and band together in mutual defense.
The United States did not take an active interest in
Oman until after the hostage seizure in Iran in 1979.
Following the invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, the U.S. and
Oman signed a military access agreement in exchange for
upgrading of four Omani airfields and provision of military
and economic assistance. The United States took advantage
of this treaty by using Masirah Island off the coast of Oman
in April 1980 as the staging area for the Delta Force in the
aborted hostage rescue attempt.5 The runway at Khasab has
been extended and resurfaced at the expense of $3.6 million
from the U.S.6 We have also provided M60 tanks, Sidewinder
missiles, TOW missiles, C-130 aircraft, and 155mm howitzers
in military aid as well.7 Oman has additionally agreed to
limited participation in Middle East exercises similar to
the "Jade Tiger" and "Bright Star" exercises that have been
held in the past.
Oman's ruler, Sultan Qaboos, has made state visits to
both Presidents Carter and Reagan. His most recent state
visit was on April 11, 1983, during which he reaffirmed the
strengthening relationship between the two countries.
Although entry to Oman is still subject to special security
regulations, Oman has made huge strides in modernization
since Sultan Qaboos took over.
Oman has now become a cornerstone of our Middle East
policy. The immense amount of military aid alone indicates
the sincerity of our commitment to the defense of the Strait
of Hormuz and Oman. Awareness among our military leadership
about the insurgency in Dhofar can heighten our readiness
and provide an example of a successful counterinsurgency on
the Arabian peninsula. Although the military in Oman is
still led by seconded British officers, the percentage is
steadily declining and, obviously, the Omanis are placing
renewed emphasis on U.S. military support. Should we be
placed in a leadership position similar to that of Great
Britain during the Dhofar rebellion, it is hoped that we
could perform as well.
1Thomas M. Johnson, "Oman," Armor, January-February
1981, p. 45.
2"Stay Just on the Horizon, Please," Time, 25 October
1982, p. 47.
3Peter Wald, "Oman," Swiss Review of World Affairs,
April 1981, p. 15.
4"Stay Just on the Horizon, Please," p. 49.
5Charlie A. Beckwith and Donald Knox, Delta Force (New
York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1983), p. 265.
6"Stay Just on the Horizon, Please," p. 48.
7"Police, Army, Navy, and Air Force of Oman," pp.
8"Stay Just on the Horizon, Please," p. 47-50.
Lieutenant Colonel Bard E. O'Neill, USAF, was interviewed in
November 1983, and he provided a unique framework for
analysis that is depicted in his book Insurgency in the
Modern World. As an instructor at the National War College,
he has had the opportunity to study the insurgency in Oman,
and graciously offered his entire set of notes and research
Major A. N. Pratt, USMC, was interviewed in November 1983,
and again in March 1984, following his recent trip to Dhofar.
As a member of the Center for Strategic International
Studies, Georgetown University, he was quite candid and
provided a great deal of source material. His perspective
was a unique one, coming from an individual who not only has
an appreciation for low-intensity conflict from first-hand
experience, but from one who has recently seen Dhofar.
Akehurst, J. We Won A War. Great Britain: Russell
(Publishing) Ltd., 1982.
The author was the commander of the combined forces
pursuing the PFLO from 1972 until 1975. It is a well
written book that gives an "up close and personal" view
of the rebellion. It is valuable if you desire to
obtain a detailed picture of the ground operation.
Anthony, J. D. "Oman: Stable and Strategic," Journal of
Defense Diplomacy, November 1983, 12-14.
Mr. Anthony is the president of the National Council
on U.S.-Arab Relations, and a noted specialist on Middle-
East affairs. His knowledge of the Dhofar War is broad
and Oman is one of his specialities. This article
provides a background for the strategic importance of
----------. "Insurrection and Intervention: the War in
Dhofar," The Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean in Inter-
national Politics, Abbas Amirie, ed. Tehran, Iran:
Institute for International Political and Economic
Studies, 1975, 287-318.
Another expertly written article that specifically
analyzes the external factors relating to the rebellion.
It also provides various viewpoints from several other
members of a discussion panel.
The Area Handbook for the Persian Gulf States. Washington,
D. C.: U. S. Government Printing Office, 1977.
This book is a comprehensive compilation of the
dominant aspects of all the Persian Gulf States, and the
section on Oman is superb general background for
commencing a study of the Dhofar Rebellion. It was
prepared by the Foreign Area Studies section of The
Beckwith, C. A. and Knox, D. Delta Force. New York:
Harcourt Brace Jovanich, 1983.
Used only as a reference in this case to document
the use of Masirah Island by the United States. It is
of little value for anything else, save reading a litany
of Col. Beckwith's supposed heroics.
Eigeland, T. "Oman: the Terrain," Aramco World Magazine,
May-June 1983, 10.
A brief description of Oman's terrain.
Franklin-Trout, J. "The Oil Kingdoms," Public Broadcasting
Service TV, 1983.
This three part series broadcast in 1983 graphically
portrayed Oman ahd the coup that left Sultan Qaboos on
Geraghty, T. Inside the Special Air Service. Nashville:
Battery Press, 1980.
Contains a short chapter explaining the SAS partici-
pation in the Dhofar War.
Halliday, F. Arabia Without Sultans. New York: Vintage
One of the few (or possibly the only) book that
gives a complete view of the rebellion from the
perspective of the PFLO. Mr. Halliday visited them
during the war and offers his critical analysis of the
"Interview: H. M. Sultan Qaboos Bin Said." Journal of
Defense Diplomacy. November 1983, 10-11.
A short but interesting perspective on Sultan
Qaboos, as he gives his views on the Iraq-Iran war, the
PLO, the PFLO, and Oman's strategic location.
Jeapes, T. SAS: Operation Oman. London: William Kimber &
Co., Ltd., 1980.
Written by the man who commanded the SAS Squadron in
Dhofar during the latter stages of the war, this book
gives a detailed account of the combat operations and
explains the relationship and structure of both the SAS
BATTs and the Omani Firqats.
Johnson, T. M. "Oman," Armor Magazine, January-February
Gives detail to the geography of Oman and provides
some examples of the social improvements there.
Lunde, P. "Oman: a History," Aramco World Magazine, May-
June 1983, 4-7.
A synopsis version of Oman's history.
"Military Construction Overseas Would Enlarge U. S.
Presence," Washington Post, 17 March 1984, A19.
Lists the figured concerning U.S. military
construction aid to Oman.
"Neo-piracy in Oman and the Gulf," Middle East Research
Project, Washington, D. C., 1975.
Called "MERIP" reports, this one has a lengthy
section on Oman. It is anti-U.S. and draws heavily on
Halliday's Arabia Without Sultans.
"Oil States in Gulf Fear Threat to Vital Strait," Washington
Post, 11 November 1983, A19.
Voices the fears about the Iraq-Iran war closing the
Strait of Hormuz.
"Oman Post Report," U. S. Department of State Publication
9273, Washington, D. C., July 1982.
Basic facts on Oman.
Oman '83. Muscat, Oman: The Ministry of Information,
Sultanate of Oman, 1983.
A public information booklet on Oman.
"Oman: Emerging from the Dark Ages," Time, 4 June 1979,
A fine article that centers on the many improvements
made in Oman by Sultan Qaboos.
O'Neill, B. E., Heaton, W. R. and Alberts, D. J. Insurgency
in the Modern World. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press,
The sections "Insurgency: A Framework for Analysis,"
and "Revolutionary War in Oman" provide excellent points
of departure from which to study the counterinsurgency
Peterson, J. E. "Guerilla Warfare and Ideological Confronta-
tion in the Arabian Peninsula: The Rebellion in Dhufar,"
World Affairs, Volume 139, Number 4, Spring, 1977,
A well documented article detailing the events in
Dhofar and their world significance.
----------. Oman in tne Twentieth Century. London: Croom
The most comprehensively researched work on modern
"Police, Army, Navy, and Air Force of Oman," Journal of
Defense Diplomacy, November 1983, 16-25.
Plain facts on the services of Oman.
Price, D. L. Oman: Insurgency and Development (Conflict
Studies, Number 53). London: The Institute for the
Study of Conflict, 1975.
Breaks down the war in Dhofar into phases and
provides a limited analysis.
"Stay Just on the Horizon, Please." Time, 25 October 1982,
Explains the involvement of the U.S. with Oman in
"Tiny Oman Guards the Strategic Strait of Hormuz,"
Washington Post, 2 January 1980, A7.
An example of events relating to Oman's strategic
value prior to the Iran-Iraq war.
Townsend, J. Oman: The Making of a Modern State. New York:
St. Martin's Press, 1977.
Provides another perspective on tne development of
Oman both internally and externally.
Wald, Peter, "Oman," Swiss Review of World Affairs, April
Details Oman's fears about invasion from the PDRY.
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