The Jebel Akhdar War (Arabic: حرب الجبل الأخضر Ḥarb al-Jebel el-ʾAkhḍar) or the Jebel Akhdar rebellion broke out in 1954 and again in 1957 in Oman, as an effort by Imam Ghalib Alhinai to protect the Imamate of Oman lands from the advancement plans of Sultan Said bin Taimur, backed by the British government. The Imamate was eventually supported by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Egypt. The war lasted until 1959, when the British armed forces decided to take on direct interventions using air and ground attacks on the Imamate, which won the Sultanate the war.
|Jebel Akhdar War|
|Commanders and leaders|
|Said bin Taimur||
Ghalib Bin Ali Al Hinai
|1,000 total, including 250 SAS (1959 Jebel offensive)||
150–600 hardline rebels
|Casualties and losses|
1 British pilot killed (1958 air campaigns)
Several dozen killed or wounded (1958 air campaigns)
|Total: 213–523+ killed[a]|
During the late 19th century and early 20th century, the coastal of Oman, the Sultanate of Muscat, and the interior of Oman, the Imamate, had undergone continuous clashes and were often in conflict with one another. This conflict was resolved temporarily in 1920 by the signing of Treaty of Seeb, which granted the Imamate of Oman an autonomous rule over the interior of Oman, while recognizing the sovereignty of the coastal of Oman, the Sultanate of Muscat. After the discovery of oil wells in other parts of the Arabian Gulf, British oil companies were keen to search for oil in Oman. On 10 January 1923, an agreement between the Sultanate and the British government was signed in which the Sultanate had to consult with the British Political Agent residing in Muscat and obtain the approval of the High Government of India in order to extract oil in the Sultanate. In 1937, an agreement between the Sultan and a subsidiary of Iraq Petroleum Company (IPC), a consortium of oil companies that is largely British owned, was signed to grant oil concessions to IPC, in which the Sultan received a sizable signature bonus. IPC, after failing to discover oil in the Sultanate region, informed the Sultan that oil reserves may exist in the interior of Oman and offered financial support to raise an armed force against any potential resistance by the Imamate. The British government favored IPC's plan as it sought benefits from the expansion of the Sultanate's territory and considered oil discovery in Oman as a valuable insurance against the insecurity of other parts of the Middle East.
When Said bin Taimur became the ruler of Sultanate of Muscat, the defense of the region was guaranteed by treaties with Britain. The only armed forces in Muscat were tribal levies and a palace guard recruited from Baluchistan in Pakistan (due to a historical quirk by which the Sultan also owned the port of Gwadar).
Prior to 1954, there had been a dispute between the Sultanate and Saudi Arabia over the ownership of the Buraimi Oasis, an area which was known to have oil reserves. In early 1953, the Sultanate had prepared a force of 500 to deal with the overtaking of Buraimi by Saudi Arabia and protect the Trucial States against further Saudi encroachments. On August 1953, Muscat forces were preparing to advance on Buraimi but the British government had asked the Sultan to withhold, pending negotiations for a peaceful settlement. However, the dispute on the ownership of Buraimi carried on throughout the period of the war between the Sultanate and the Imamate.
Planning by the Sultanate to advance on the interior of Oman had started early in 1945 as news broke out that Imam Alkhalili, the predecessor to Imam Alhinai, was ill. Sultan Said bin Taimur had expressed his interest to the British government in occupying the Imamate right after the death of the Imam and take advantage of potential instability that may occur within the Imamate. The idea of having the oil company attempt to negotiate directly with the interior of Oman was not favored by the British Political Agent who resided in Muscat, providing the justification that it would mean recognizing the authority of the Imamate and, therefore, increase its prestige. The British Political Agent believed that the only method of gaining access to the oil reserves in the interior was by assisting the Sultan in taking over the Imamate. The position of the British government had, thereafter, been to eliminate any potential of entering into direct relations with the interior to avoid alienating the Sultan and to avoid invalidating the claim of IPC that its concession from the Sultan covers the entirety of Oman, not just the Sultanate region. In 1946, the British government offered arms and ammunition, auxiliary supplies and officers to prepare the Sultan in his endeavor to overtake the Imamate. It has also been decided on September 1946 by the British government not to use the British Royal Air Force (RAF) to occupy the interior, as had originally been requested by the Sultan, for the reason that the British government is averse to the use of “threat of force” and to avoid international criticism that may lead to the calling of the British government before the Security Council of the United Nations.
The war had been triggered by the Sultan, Said Bin Taimur, on 25 October 1954, when he first licensed IPC oil prospectors to search for oil near Fahud, an area located within the territory of the Imamate, and sent forces to occupy it. The move was determined by the Imamate to be a breach to the Treaty of Seeb, an agreement which recognized its autonomy. On the next day, the Sultanate's forces moved to capture Tanam. The occupation of Fahud and Tanam was only a prelude to a grand design by the Sultanate to occupy the entire Imamate. On 13 December 1954, the Muscat and Oman Field Force (MOFF), later renamed Sultan of Oman's Armed Forces (SAF), which had eight British officers among its troops, marched from Fahud to Adam and, subsequently, occupied it. Thereupon, the capital of the Imamate, Nizwa, was captured by the Sultanate on 15 December 1955. The Imamate had therefore been temporarily defeated. However, the Wali of Rustaq and the younger brother of the Imam, Talib Alhinai, fled to Saudi Arabia in order to seek additional support in the war against the Sultanate.
Talib bin Ali Al Hinai, the Imam's brother, who had fled to Saudi Arabia, returned to Oman in 1957 with 300 well-equipped fighters, consequently, the insurrection broke out again. Talib's forces took hold of a fortified tower near Bilad Sayt, which the Field Force lacked the heavy weapons to destroy. After few weeks of inconclusive fighting, Suleiman bin Himyar, the Sheikh of one of the major tribes in the interior, openly proclaimed his defiance to the Sultan, and began a general uprising. The Muscat and Oman Field Force was largely destroyed as it attempted to retreat through hostile towns and villages. The MOFF moved an artillery battery to Bilad Sayt in anticipation of an easy victory. However, the Imamate's forces proved to be much better organized than anticipated. After weeks of skirmishes, the MOFF, with no civilian support from the locals in the interior, had no choice but to surrender their way back to Fahud. The Imamate's forces freed Nizwa (capital), Firq, Izki, Tanuf, Bahla and Jabal Akhdar from the Sultunate's control, while Ibri was the only area that remained under the occupation of the Sultunate.
On 25 July 1958, as a result of the Imamate's strong resistance, the British government had decided to reinforce the Sultanate's forces and increase its military support. Meanwhile, the British government had a general objective of being "less visible" in its middle-east affairs in the post-Suez world and the rise of anti-colonialism sentiment in the Arab world during that period. Therefore, letters were exchanged between the Sultan and the British leaders and subsequently an 'assistance in economic development' agreement was signed, which consisted of strengthening the Sultan of Oman's Armed Forces (SAF) by attaching British officers to lead small units and to head the SAF as a whole. The rebellion was suppressed by the Muscat Regiment and the Trucial Oman Levies from the neighbouring Trucial States. The decisive factor, however, was the direct support of soldiers from the British Special Air Service, 1st Battalion of the Cameronions, a troop of the 15/19 Hussars, RAF Jets and a squadron of Ferret armoured cars that the Sultanate had received. Talib's forces retreated to the inaccessible Jebel Akhdar. The SAF's attacks up the few paths to the Jebel were easily repelled.
The Sultan's army was reorganised under the British soldier, Colonel David Smiley. The Batinah Force was renamed to Northern Frontier Regiment and the remnants of the Muscat and Oman Field Force were merged into the new Oman Regiment. Within each unit and sub-unit, Baluchi and Arab soldiers were mixed. This prevented units defecting or openly sympathising with the interior of Oman, but led to tensions within units, and orders were frequently not followed because of language problems. Many of the notionally Omani soldiers were recruited from the province of Dhofar, and were looked down upon by other Arabs.
The Army had still been unable to deal with Talib's stronghold. The few paths up the Jebel Akhdar were far too narrow to deploy attacking battalions or even companies. One attempt was made against the southern face of the Jebel, using four infantry companies (including two companies from the Trucial Oman Scouts, from what would later become the United Arab Emirates). The attackers withdrew hastily after concluding they were vulnerable to being ambushed and cut off. In another attempt, infantry launched a feint and then withdrew while Avro Shackleton bombers of the RAF bombarded the supposedly massed defenders but they inflicted no casualties. De Havilland Venoms, flying from RAF Sharjah, were also used to bomb and strafe the mountainous strongholds of the rebels.
For two years, rebel infiltrators continually mined the roads around the Jebel, and ambushed SAF and British detachments and oil company vehicles. The SAF were spread in small detachments in the towns and villages at the foot of the Jebel, and thus vulnerable and on the defensive. Their arms (mainly British weapons of World War II vintage) were less effective than the up-to-date equipment used by Talib's fighters. A SAF artillery unit with two 5.5 inch medium guns harassed the settlements on the plateau on top of the Jebel Akhdar, but to little effect. RAF aircraft continued to attack the interior settlements on the plateau areas of the Jebel and remnants of these air attacks still exist - the wreckage of a crashed Venom FB4 jet and the grave of its pilot (Flt Lt Clive Owen Watkinson) are located up on the Saiq Plateau.
It was estimated by some British officers that a full-scale attack by a British brigade would be required to recapture the Jebel. David Smiley and others felt that a smaller operation by the Special Forces with air support would suffice. Eventually, in 1959, two squadrons from the British Special Air Service Regiment were deployed under Anthony Deane-Drummond. After making feint operations against outlying positions on the north side of the Jebel Akhdar, they scaled the southern face of the Jebel at night, taking the rebels by surprise. Supplies were parachuted to them once they reached the plateau, which may have misled some of the rebels into thinking that this was an assault by paratroops.
There was little further fighting. Talib and his fighters either melted back into the local population or fled to Saudi Arabia. Imam Ghalib went into exile in Saudi Arabia.
The casualties of the five-year conflict were hundreds of rebels killed, together with significant human cost to the British and Sultan's loyal troops. The decisive 1959 offensive resulted in the deaths of 13 of the Sultan's Armed Forces and British personnel, and 176 Omanis from the interior in the final month of fighting.
The Imamate had resorted to international organizations, mainly the United Nations and the Arab League, in order to appeal for settling the conflict. Talib Alhinai, who was the Wali (governor) of Rustaq, and Suleiman bin Hamyar, who was the Wali (governor) of Jebel Akhdar, have presented the case of Oman in front of the Arab League and the United Nations in an attempt to seek recognition of the Imamate and to appeal against the aggression of the British forces. The Imamate's cause had been, thereafter, closely identified with Arab nationalism and the various forms of anti-colonialism that were taking place during that period. On August 1959, the UN Security Council, however, voted by a narrow margin not to consider a request for an urgent meeting to discuss 'British aggression against' an independent Imamate of Oman. The United Nations General Assembly on 12 December 1967 adopted the 'Question of Oman' resolution by a majority of votes, which condemned the repressive intervention of the British troops against the locals, reaffirmed the need to acquire the consent of the locals to grant natural resources concessions and reaffirmed the "right of the people of the Territory as a whole to self-determination". The 'Question of Oman' remained on the UN General Assembly agenda in each year until 1971. The Imamate continued for a short time to lead a temporary government-in-exile from Dammam, Saudi Arabia and established an Imamate Office in Cairo, Egypt while the fighting continued in Oman. The Imamate's cause continued to be promoted up until 1970.
Declassified information by the British National Archives later revealed that the British government had deliberately destroyed Aflaj irrigation systems and crops by air strikes in order to prevent locals in the interior of Oman from gathering crops and denying them access to water supplies. Wadi Beni Habib and the water channel at Semail were among the water supplies that have been deliberately damaged. Air strikes on Saiq and Sharaijah rendered cultivation in the areas "hazardous". Furthermore, the declassified British documents reveal that the United Kingdom Foreign Secretary gave the approval on 4 August 1957 to carry out British air strikes without prior warning to the locals residing in the interior of Oman. The ban on visas for the press by the Sultan and the ability of the British government to carry out air strikes discretely using Masirah Airfield had helped in sustaining the military operations under low profile.
On 29 July 1957, the House of Commons of the United Kingdom Parliament debated the Jebel Akhdar War under the title "Muscat and Oman". The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs at the time, Selwyn Lloyd, while answering questions from members of the House of Commons, had given the impression that the Treaty of Seeb was broken by the Imamate by stating "this agreement was broken by the tribes in the year or two prior to December, 1955, when the Imam, with foreign help, sought to establish a separate principality". However, British declassified documents published by the British National Archive later revealed that the Treaty of Seeb had been broken much earlier, on July 1945, when it was first revealed that Sultan Said bin Taimur with the support of the British government planned to advance on the Imamate right after the death of Imam Alkhalili, the predecessor to Imam Alhinai.
With the defeat of the Imam, the Treaty of Seeb was terminated and the autonomous Imamate of Oman was abolished. In the early 1960s, the Imam, exiled to Saudi Arabia and had obtained the support from his host and other Arab governments, but this support ended in the 1980s.
Despite the defeat, some insurgents continued to cross into Oman from Saudi Arabia or via the UAE, and laid landmines which continued to cause casualties to SAF units and civilian vehicles. The catastrophic sinking of the MV Dara off the coast of Dubai in 1961 is thought to have been caused by such a land mine. The SAF lacked the numbers to prevent this infiltration. A paramilitary force, the Oman Gendarmerie was formed in 1960 to assist the SAF in this task, and also to take over normal policing duties. The landmine campaign eventually dwindled away.
[a].^ Casualties breakdown (213-523+ killed):
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