Jebel Akhdar War (Arabic: حرب الجبل الأخضر Ḥarb al-Jebel el-ʾAkhḍar) or Jebel Akhdar rebellion broke out in 1954 and again in 1957 in Oman, as an effort by Imam Ghalib Bin Ali to protect the Imamate of Oman lands from the Sultan Said bin Taimur; the rebellion was supported by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Egypt. The war continued until 1959, when the British armed forces intervened on the Sultan's side, helping him win the war.
During the late 19th century and early 20th century, the Sultan in Muscat faced encroaching forces of the Imam of Oman proper, centered on the town of Nizwa. This conflict was resolved temporarily in 1920 by the Treaty of Seeb, which granted the Imam an autonomous rule in the interior Imamate of Oman, while recognising the nominal sovereignty of the Sultan of Muscat. When oil exploration had begun in Oman in the early 1920s, by the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, oil was found in the region of Fahud, which was part of the Imamate lands, prompting the Sultan to violate the Treaty of Seeb and take over the Imamate lands.
When Said bin Taimur became ruler of Muscat and Oman, the defence of the region was guaranteed by treaties with Britain. The only armed forces in Muscat and Oman 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).
Before 1954, there had been a dispute with Saudi Arabia over the ownership of the Buraimi Oasis, which was important for oil exploration rights. In 1954, the Imam of Oman was Ghalib bin Ali Al Hinai. He had been prepared to muster Omani tribesmen to expel the Saudis from Buraimi, but at British instigation, the matter was settled by arbitration. To prevent the Imam interfering with the settlement over Buraimi, a battalion-sized task force, the Muscat and Oman Field Force, to which some British officers were attached, was raised, and occupied the town of Ibri. The Sultan's prestige and authority was damaged by his disdain for his own people.
The last Imam of Oman, Ghalib Bin Ali Al Hinai, started an uprising in 1954, when the Sultan of Oman granted licenses to the Iraq Petroleum Company, disregarding the fact that the largest oil fields lay inside the Imamate. With the Field Force occupying part of his territory, Ghalib rebelled against this attack. However his efforts were defeated and he had to return to his home village of Blad Seit.
Sultan Said bin Taimur relied heavily on continued British military support. Iraq Petroleum, along with its operator of oil exploration, Petroleum Development Oman, was owned by European oil giants including Anglo-Iranian Oil's successor British Petroleum, which encouraged the British government to extend their support to the Sultan.
Talib bin Ali Al Hinai, the Imam's brother, who had fled to Saudi Arabia, returned from there in 1957 with 300 well-equipped fighters, and the insurrection broke out again. Talib's forces occupied a fortified tower near Bilad Sait, which the Field Force lacked the heavy weapons to destroy. After some weeks' inconclusive fighting, Suleiman bin Himyar, the Sheikh of one of the major tribes in the interior, openly proclaimed his defiance of the Sultan, and began a general uprising. The Muscat and Oman Field Force was largely destroyed as it tried to retreat through hostile towns and villages.
The rebellion was suppressed by the Muscat Regiment and the Trucial Oman Levies from the neighbouring Trucial States. The decisive factor however, was the intervention of infantry (two companies of the Cameronians) and armoured car detachments from the British Army and aircraft of the RAF. Talib's forces retreated to the inaccessible Jebel Akhdar. The SAF's attacks up the few paths up the Jebel were easily repelled.
The Sultan's army was reorganised under a British soldier, Colonel David Smiley. The Batinah Force was renamed the 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 to or openly sympathising with the rebels, 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 looked down upon by other Arabs.
The Army was still 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. 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, to little effect. RAF aircraft continued to attack rebel settlements on the plateau areas of the Jebel and remnants of some 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. Smiley and others felt that a smaller operation by 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 this 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 Ibadi rebels in the final month of fighting.
With the defeat of the Imam, the Treaty of Seeb was terminated and the autonomous Imamate of Oman abolished. In the early 1960s, the Imam, exiled to Saudi Arabia, obtained support from his hosts 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):