Sheep magazine Archive 2: issues 10-17


Lefty online magazine: issue 10, May 2016 to issue 17, November 2016

While the Wilson government had every reason to be sensitive about

the military support it was providing to a slave-owning despot, whose

rule might charitably be described as medieval, there were additional

reasons for the all-embracing secrecy. This was an era in which the

developing world and the United Nations had rejected colonialism, and

Arab nationalism had been growing in strength for decades. It was vital,

therefore, for the credibility of the UK in the Middle East, that its hand in

Oman should remain largely hidden.


John Akehurst, the commander of the Sultan’s Armed Forces from 1972,

suggests a further reason for the British government not wishing to draw

attention to its war in Dhofar: “They were perhaps nervous that we were

going to lose it.”

Certainly, by the summer of 1970, Britain’s secret war was going so badly

that desperate measures were called for. On 26 July, the Foreign Office in

London announced that Sultan Said bin Taimur had been deposed by his

29-year-old son, Qaboos bin Said, in a palace coup. In fact, the coup was a

very British affair. It had been planned in London by MI6 and by civil servants

at the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign Office, and given the go-ahead

after the election that brought Edward Heath into Downing Street.

The new sultan immediately abolished slavery, improved the country’s

irrigation infrastructure and began to spend his oil revenues on his armed

forces. Troops from the SAS arrived, first as the sultan’s bodyguards, and

then in squadron strength to fight the adoo. Eventually, the tide turned,

journalists were permitted into the country, and by the summer of 1976

the war was won.