As a regional commercial power in the nineteenth century, Oman
held territories on the island of Zanzibar off the coast of East
Africa, in Mombasa along the coast of East Africa, and until 1958
in Gwadar (in present-day Pakistan) on the coast of the Arabian
Sea. When its East African possessions were lost, Oman withdrew
into isolationism in the southeast corner of the Arabian Peninsula.
Another of the gulf states with long-standing ties to the British,
Oman became important in the British-French rivalry at the end
of the eighteenth century, when Napoleonic France challenged the
British Empire for control of the trade routes to the East. Although
nominally a fully independent sultanate, Oman enjoyed the protection
of the empire without being, de jure, in the category of a colony
or a protected state. With its external defenses guaranteed and
its overseas territories lost, the sultanate had no need for armed
forces other than mercenaries to safeguard the personal position
of the sultan.
In 1952, when the Saudis occupied Omani territory near the Al
Buraymi Oasis, a British-led force from the Trucial Coast fought
the incursion and retook the territory for the sultan. Later in
the same decade, the sultan again called on British troops to
aid in putting down a rebellion led by the former imam (see Glossary)
of Oman, who attempted to establish a separate state free of rule
from Muscat. British ground and air forces dispatched to aid the
Muscat and Oman Field Force succeeded in overcoming the rebels
in early 1959. Nevertheless, instead of a minor intertribal affair
in Oman's hinterland, the rebellion became an international incident,
attracting wide sympathy and support among members of the League
of Arab States (Arab League) and the UN.
An agreement between Sultan Said ibn Taimur Al Said and the British
government in 1958 led to the creation of the Sultan's Armed Forces
(SAF) and the promise of British assistance in military development.
The agreement included the detailing of British officers and confirmed
the existing rights of Britain's Royal Air Force to use facilities
at Salalah in Dhofar region and at Masirah, an island off the
Omani coast in the Arabian Sea.
Sultan Said ibn Taimur was ultraconservative and opposed to change
of any kind. Kindled by Arab nationalism, a rebellion broke out
in 1964 in Dhofar, the most backward and exploited area of Oman.
Although begun as a tribal separatist movement against a reactionary
ruler, the rebellion was backed by leftist elements in the PDRY.
Its original aim was the overthrow of Said ibn Taimur, but, by
1967, under the name of the Popular Front for the Liberation of
the Occupied Arabian Gulf--which in 1974 was changed to the Popular
Front for the Liberation of Oman (PFLO)-- it adopted much wider
goals. Supported by the Soviet Union through the PDRY, it hoped
to spread revolution throughout the conservative regimes of the
Said ibn Taimur's reprisals against the Dhofari people tended
to drive them into the rebel camp. In 1970, as the Dhofari guerrilla
attacks expanded, Said ibn Taimur's son, Qabus ibn Said Al Said,
replaced his father in a coup carried out with the assistance
of British officers. Qabus ibn Said, a Sandhurst graduate and
veteran of British army service, began a program to modernize
the country and to develop the armed forces. In addition to British
troops and advisers, the new sultan was assisted by troops sent
by the shah of Iran. Aid also came from India, Jordan, Pakistan,
Saudi Arabia, and the Trucial Coast, all interested in ensuring
that Oman did not become a "people's republic." An Iranian brigade,
along with artillery and helicopters, arrived in Dhofar in 1973.
After the arrival of the Iranians, the combined forces consolidated
their positions on the coastal plain and moved against the guerrillas'
mountain stronghold. By stages, the Omanis and Iranians gradually
subdued the guerrilla forces, pressing their remnants closer and
closer to the PDRY border. In December 1975, having driven the
PFLO from Omani territory, the sultan declared that the war had
been won. Total Omani, British, and Iranian casualties during
the final two-and-one-half years of the conflict were about 500.
Data as of January 1993