Friday, August 3, 2012

The Dissertation: Dhofar Rebellion Part 1

One of my prime options for a dissertation topic is an academic study of the Dhofar Rebellion.

In a nutshell, the Dhofar Rebellion was a war that took place in southwestern Oman from 1965 to 1975. The war was fought by loyalist Omani troops, supported by British and Iranian troops; and rebels agitated and reinforced by communist guerrillas from neighboring South Yemen, and supported by the Soviet Union and China. Loyalist forces ultimately prevailed by implementing a carefully planned counterinsurgency strategy that reconciled the Dhofaris and the Omani rebels to the rest of the country while capitalizing on conflict between the rebels and the communist guerrillas.

The Dhofar Rebellion is one of the great counterinsurgency success stories of the recent past. I first learned about it in 2006, when I read a very brief mention of the British contribution in An Unorthodox Soldier by Tim Spicer. I visited Oman for the first time in January of this year, and fell in love with the country, its unique and fascinating culture, and its history. I began studying the Dhofar Rebellion in earnest, and I have been shocked by how little information is available on the conflict. One illustration of this is that the touted US Army and Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual features one mention - one - of the Dhofar Rebellion, and that's only a listing for Tony Jeapes' SAS Secret War: Operation Storm in the Middle East. After months of looking, I've found around a dozen books of varying quality on the topic, most of them personal autobiographies, and next to nothing from the academic powerhouses of the Department of Defense. By contrast, there are probably more books on solely on the topic of Helmand Province (Afghanistan) than there are about the Dhofar Rebellion.

Of course, quantity does not equal quality. One example of this is the Algerian War, for which the number of sources is few, but those sources are of extremely high quality (A Savage War of Peace: Algeria 1954-1962 by Alistair Horne, Pacification in Algeria, 1956-1958 by David Galula, and the such). With the former as a model, the closest corollary is probably the aforementioned book by Major General Tony Jeapes, who commanded 22 SAS during the campaign. Sir Alistair Horne's offering was widely read by military leaders engaged in the Iraq campaign, to include President Bush - ironic, in part, since the French campaign in Algeria ultimately ended in failure.

When the Vietnam War concluded, people claimed that the best solution was to avoid getting involved in counterinsurgency operations in the first place. With operations in Iraq having been concluded, and with the Afghan campaign being ended on an arbitrary timeline, the popular sentiment is that we should just avoid getting drawn into counterinsurgency warfare in the foreseeable future. Unfortunately, this is a fallacious argument that implies that wars are by and large a matter of choice, rather than actions taken out of political necessity. There's a fantasy in some military or quasi-military circles that a choice exists between fighting conventional armies, or fighting insurgents. In all actuality, though, this is wishful thinking on the part of those who prefer conventional force-on-force engagements because they are comparatively easy to counterinsurgency, or out of parochial attitudes toward force structure and tactics. It is for precisely this reason - the overwhelming Western superiority in force-on-force engagements - that irregular and hybrid warfare styles have proven so effective in recent years, and appear poised to retain their popularity amongst the rogue states and sub-state actors whom are likely to threaten international security for the foreseeable future.

The West, and America in particular, will find itself engaged in counterinsurgency warfare again within my lifetime, and possibly sooner, either directly or by proxy through partnerships with host nation forces. It is for precisely this reason that I believe the lessons of the Dhofar Rebellion are valuable for current and future soldiers.

So, where does that put me? Well, I've identified a few sources. Here's what I have so far.

  • Tony Jeapes; SAS Secret War: Operation Storm in the Middle East (Book); Greenhill Books, 2005
  • Tony Geraghty; Who Dares Wins: The Story of the Special Air Service, 1950-1982 (Book); HarperCollins Publishers, 1983
  • Ranulph Fiennes; Where Soldiers Fear to Tread (Book); Hodder & Stoughton Ltd, 1983
  • Ranulph Fiennes; The Feather Men (Book); Bloomsbury Publishing Plc., 1991
  • David C. Arkless; The Secret War: Dhofar 1971/1972 (Book); William Kimber, 1988
  • Ibrahim bin Saif al Hamdani; Development as an anti-Insurgency weapon: The Dhofar War (Book); unknown, unknown
  • Roger Cole and Richard Belfield; SAS Operation Storm: Nine Men Against Four Hundred in Britain's Secret War (Book); Hodder & Stoughton, 2011
  • Ian Gardiner; In the Service of the Sultan: A First Hand Account of the Dhofar Insurgency (Book); Pen & Sword Military, 2007
  • Andrew Higgins; With the SAS and Other Animals: A Vet's Experiences During the Dhofar War 1974 (Book); Pen & Sword Military, 2011
  • Rowland White; Storm Front: The Epic True Story of a Secret War, the SAS's Greatest Battle, and the British Pilots Who Saved Them (Book); Corgi, 2011
  • John Akehurst; We Won a War: The Campaign in Oman 1965-1975 (Book); M. Russell, 1982
  • Stephen A. Cheney; The Insurgency in Oman 1962-1976 (Article); Marine Corps Command and Staff College, 1984
  • John B. Meagher; The Jebel Akhdar War Oman 1954-1959 (Article); Marine Corps Command and Staff College, 1985
  • N/A; British Army Field Manual: Countering Insurgency (Article); British Army, 2009
  • Joseph A. Kechichian; Oman and the World: The Emergence of an Independent Foreign Policy (Article); RAND Corporation, 1995
  • Bruce Hoffman; British Air Power in Peripheral Conflict 1919-1976 (Article); RAND Corporation, 1989
  • Jim White; Oman 1965-1976: From Certain Defeat to Decisive Victory (Article); Small Wars Journal, 2008

    I have all of the articles saved to my hard drive, but at this point I only have three of the books - Jeapes, Arkless, and Sir Ranulph Fiennes' The Feather Men. I had hoped to be able to get a few more of these on Kindle, but as most of them are fifteen or twenty years old and published outside the United States, that's not going to happen. (I may be able to find a few of them on interlibrary loan or something, if I'm unable to track down used copies by way of Amazon or a book shop.

    It will also be interesting to see how much overlap there is. I get the impression that Major General Jeapes' book, thus far the most authoritative source on the conflict, may be the primary source for most of the listed articles. One of the skills I refined while working in Virginia, and through five years of blogging, is the fine art of citation. Regardless of what I ultimately settle on for my dissertation topic, it will be well documented. If it's the Dhofar Rebellion, my task will be to review the handful of scholarly and semi-scholarly accounts of the conflict, and match those thirty-thousand-foot views to the ground floor perspectives offered by the handful of autobiographical accounts. I may also try to incorporate other sources, such as military field manuals and treatises on tactics and strategy.

    As I mentioned, the sources in question are of varying quality. The Feather Men, for example, won't be of much use, as the actual topic of the Dhofar Rebellion is ancillary to the book's core narrative. I read the first few chapters of the Cole and Belfield book, and it's truly awful, but I think I may be able to pick a few details out of it. The articles all appear to be helpful, so despite being few in number, I'm optimistic that they'll help me to be productive.

    1. Check out Oman's Insurgencies by J.E. Peterson

    2. Hi - only just seen this. For me John Akehurst's book gives the best overview. At the lower level Ian Gardiner's In the service of the Sultan is worth a read; and for the 'development' side (a vital part of the strategy) you might try Paul Sibley's A Monk in the SAS. I covered it in my MPhil dissertation 'COIN, the missing currency in Peace support operations and beyond?' - Bradford University 2007 - it was on their Peace Studies website but I don't know if it still is. I was in Dhofar 69/70.
      David Pinder

    3. I have put a lot of photos from Dhofar in 1974 on a Facebook 'page' and 'group'.

      1. Hi, Sid. Can you share the link? I'd love to have a look.

    4. Am putting together a class using Battle of Mirbat as a case study. Are you aware of any first hand accounts not listed above?

      1. Hello, highspeed. I don't know of any other first hand accounts of Mirbat, but may be able to provide some resources. If you'd care to share an E-mail address, I'll delete the comment upon receipt and then E-mail you to coordinate further.