Ponder Anew: Brigadier John Graham & The Dhofar War 1970–1972

Major General John David Carew Graham CB, CBE, CStJ, Order of Oman, was born on 18 January 1923 and died on 14 December 2012 at his home on the island of Barbados. An impressive memorial service was held at St James’s Church Piccadilly on 7 March 2013, attended by hundreds of friends from both his first regiment, the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and also The Parachute Regiment. This account is not an obituary, rather a study into his time in command of the Sultan’s Armed Forces (CSAF) in Oman from 1970 to 1972, a crucial period of some 18 months when the communist insurgency in Dhofar was ‘turned’.

John Graham must be credited with this superb achievement.

This account is based on an extensive legacy he left behind at the Middle East Archive at St Antony’s College, Oxford, coupled with interviews with the many officers of SAF that served with him and under his command. Crucially, he kept a page a day diary, now at Oxford. This is not then a eulogy to him but an analysis of what it was to be in his position at the time.


Graham was no stranger to the Gulf, having previously served in Bahrain in 1963 as OC HQ Company 2 PARA and then as second in command. He had completed several exercises in Oman and was favourably impressed. He subsequently commanded 1 PARA in Bahrain. As a brigadier John Graham[1] arrived in Oman as the fifth Commander Sultan’s Armed Forces (CSAF), taking over from Corran Purdon.

He had been briefed in no uncertain terms by VCGS (General Balfour) that any criticism of the existing Sultan, Said Bin Taimur was to be ‘hammered.’[2] The general FCO/MOD view that was relayed to Graham was that the rebellion in Dhofar would ‘just fizzle out’, this despite all the evidence to the contrary following the Peoples Front (PF) coup over the National Liberation Front (NLF) in 1968, its 90% control of Dhofar and amid concerns that Muscat would be the next to fall. This perception was also completely at odds with actual MOD/FCO thinking, the Chiefs of Staff claiming in March 1970 that ‘control of the country might not be maintained for another year.’ [3]

Graham was conscious that Corran Purdon’s pleas for helicopters and resources had left him ‘with fuck all’. Fortunately, Hugh Oldman had taken over from Pat Waterfield as Defence Secretary three months prior to Graham’s arrival and thus all the frustrations that Purdon had endured with Waterfield over the lack of helicopters and infantry were soon to be resolved: ‘Hugh and I were to work in great harmony.’

Three regiments (battalions) were on 9 month rotations in Dhofar. Graham commented upon the reluctance, though, of both the RAF and the Scottish Division to release officers to take up loan service appointments in these units. His force was a mere 3,800 strong in June 1970, the morale of the civilian population was ‘low to abysmal’ and decidedly unsympathetic to SAF or theGaysh as the Army was known locally. Intelligence was ‘exceedingly meagre.’[4]

The first interview with the Sultan was ominous. He found Said Taimur to be exceedingly ignorant, ‘he had not a clue about the adoo’, demonstrating astonishing complacency, ill informed on Dhofar and with no appreciation for the efforts made by Corran Purdon. In short, the Sultan’s view was ‘…Just be patient, for one day soon the adoo will just give up, go away and disappear’.[5] In fairness to Taimur, a fourth battalion had been authorised and the poor pay and conditions of service within SAF to be reviewed, but he vehemently rejected any ‘hearts and minds’ strategy stating: ‘Those people on the Jebel are very bad. Brigadier, I want you to kill them all.’

Intelligence reports

Graham’s first Intelligence conference of 11 June 1970 at BAF was depressing enough. There was universal condemnation of the Sultan over his continued seclusion and refusal to spend oil revenues. The Walis were regarded as indifferent or incompetent. SAF was the sole institution of power in Oman and thus the source of animosity, not respect, in its perceived role as defender of Taimur’s rule, which of course was true. The adoo controlled nine tenths of Dhofar and SAF was only capable of securing Salalah Plain. Should the Front offensive spread to central and north Oman, SAF would be incapable of stopping it. Yet the ‘int’ view was that ‘no explosion was imminent’. The attacks of 12 June at Izki and Nizwa were precisely in this vein. It was also thought that ‘turned’ SAF would then be used to murder its British leaders. A contingency plan for the withdrawal of both loan service and contract officers was thus essential. It was the June attacks that convinced Graham that the cause was lost unless Qaboos, the sultan’s son, replaced Taimur.

It was during a swim with Oldman that the prospect of such an occurrence was raised by Oldman.[6] Qaboos ‘had decided to overthrow his father and had contacted London to ascertain London’s reaction and willingness to look after his father’. How would SAF react to such an event, asked Oldman? Graham thought the answer was generally favourable but that some long term contract officers might have differing loyalties. It was thus decided that only serving British officers should be involved, together with Qaboos’s own supporters among the sheikhs. SAF should remain on the sidelines, but what if the coup failed?

Qaboos ‘had decided to overthrow his father and had contacted London to ascertain London’s reaction and willingness to look after his father’.

It was the UK elections and Ted Heath’s appointment as Prime Minister in June 1970 that set the conditions. Graham was visited by a colonel and wing commander from UK to prepare for a Services Protected Evacuation (SPE) in the event of a failed coup. Graham insisted that this must include not only all British nationals but also all British recruited Omanis, a daunting task and probably beyond available resources. At around this time, he was also made aware of a Top Secret signal via the Consul General, David Crawford, that HMG would support the coup.

Sir Stuart Crawford, the Political Resident in Bahrain, attempted a last minute appeal to Taimur. Graham was adamant that should the coup fail, intervention by SAF was ‘out of the question’. Graham sent a final signal stating that he required a hand written statement from Qaboos as to his intentions, that the opening moves must be Qaboos’s supported by civilians, not SAF and that there should be no bloodshed.

Political climate

The political climate was irrevocably changed for the better. His Highness Qaboos bin Said Al Bu Said, Sultan of Muscat and Oman, addressed his nation on the first National Day on 23 July 1971. He promised: a better standard of living for all; that Islam was to remain as the cornerstone of Omani life; that development would follow; that his rule would be both just and democratic; and in Dhofar, ‘our brothers and children are being subjected to various kinds of torture by infiltrating elements, from opportunists and non-Muslims’. He sought ‘our proper place among our sister Arab countries’ within the Arab League in a regime of positive neutrality and non-alliance as a member of the United Nations.

In addition to the above, Oman Radio broadcasts began to counter those of Radio Aden. SAF produced a weekly newssheet in Arabic, Urdu and English. ‘Muscat and Oman’ became ‘The Sultanate of Oman’ and a new national flag was introduced, designed, it has to be said, by Flight Lieutenant Bill Goodfellow from SOAF. The title, ‘His Highness’ was translated into ‘His Majesty’. Exiles such has Seyyid Tariq returned from abroad, himself to be Prime Minister. The battle for ‘hearts and minds’ was recognised as being of higher priority than the defeat of the Peoples Front. A Development Department was formed and, ironically, recruiting to SAF declined as development took off. Poor retention in SAF was to be countered by a programme of education, healthcare and technical skills training. The Jebel Regiment (JR) under command of Peter Worthy provided the fourth battalion. The Sultan of Oman’s Navy (SON) too was enlarged as was SOAF.

The battle for ‘hearts and minds’ was recognised as being of higher priority than the defeat of the Peoples Front.

The main military consequence of the coup was the rapid improvement in intelligence and the location of weapons hides in central Oman. In Dhofar this was less obvious, given the hold over the population by the adoo, though the brutality of its actions was itself a major incentive to surrender, notably including Musallim bin Nufl, leader of the original rebellion. Most important was the suggestion by Tony Jeapes, the SAS squadron commander, that a Firqat Force be formed, a proposal readily agreed to by Graham, Said bin Taimur’s palace hoard of weapons providing the wherewithal — ‘a campaign winning factor of cardinal importance.’[7]

The ‘omens were not good’ reported the Economist[8] in reference to PFLOAG and the overall social and economic situation, At the time of Qaboos’s rise to power there were but three schools of 900 students (all male) in Oman, 12 hospital beds and a mere 10 kilometres of roads.[9] John Graham much later wrote his own appreciation on the dire situation he faced[10] pointing out that the UK relied upon Gulf oil for 54% of its requirements, that there was to be no scope for any UK military garrison in Oman and that the USA was hamstrung by its support for Israel.

Major-General John Graham

The palace coup at last opened the door for change, most notably in the structure of SOAF. Wing Commander P J Hirst’s paper of October 1970 set the scene.[11] What was a squadron was now a Wing of three squadrons: ‘Strike’ (12 pilots and BAC 167 Strikemasters); ‘Transport’ (a caribou flight of 8 pilots and 3 De Havilland Caribous plus a Skyvan flight of 9 pilots and 6 Shorts Skyvans); and by early 1971, a helicopter squadron of 9 pilots with four Bell Augusta 206s and three Bell Augusta 205s.

Graham’s Appreciation of February 1971 was stark.[12] PFLOAG had freedom of movement throughout the jebel in Dhofar, was able to indoctrinate at will and mount offensive operations at points of its own choosing. Major centres of population were outside the range of regular SAF patrols. The security of Salalah was vital and this left only one battalion for offensive operations at no less than company level. The PF weapons outranged those of SAF. There was no airdrop capability. The western border was identified as the lynchpin of the campaign.

Following from this appreciation came Graham’s directive to Commander Dhofar for 1971.[13] Operation EMU was to proceed — the recruitment, training and control of Firqat Salalahdin or Crusader Force. Askaris were to provide security at seven Key Points. Development was to proceed in conjunction with security. All movement on the jebel was to be at night and it was accepted that 48 hour operations were the maximum achievable until the AB 205 helicopters arrived.

Beginning of operations

The overall operation was conceived as being in four phases: phase one entailed the prevention of the enemy winning and had ended in October 1970; phase two involved preparation for offensive operations; phase three was seen as offensive operations between January 1971 and mid -1972; and phase four was a matter of consolidation and rehabilitation. The mission was to ‘cripple the enemy on the jebel by the end of 1971’. To this end a ‘black area ‘ had been declared by 1 February 1971 and rules of engagement detailed.

By now, Operation VENOM was invoked and a typical sitrep of 20 February recorded how on 19 February an enemy ammunition store had been destroyed in a surgical strike with 26 adoo killed, the adoo, ‘puzzled and alarmed by the accuracy of the strikes’. Indiscriminate bombing and strafing of jebel villages was at an end, thus signalling the demise of British ‘air control’ doctrine, extant since 1919.

The notion that this was in any way a ‘secret’ war is clearly at odds with the reporting at the time. For example, the Daily Telegraph Magazine of 23 April 1971 ran an extensive article by John Bulloch on SAF/TOS issues.[14] Most notable was a photograph of a RAF Wessex helicopter supporting the Trucial Oman Scouts (TOS) when over the border where the real war was being fought, there were none. Why so? The article also claimed that there were 20 advisers from the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) ‘on the ground’ and that North Korea was also involved in training the PF. The parsimoniousness of the UK Government’s approach was also a point of concern exemplified when Qaboos received a substantial bill for the evacuation of SAF wounded from Salalah to Bahrain by RAF C-130. But the article was upbeat in claiming that the PF actions were rapidly turning the Dhofaris against themselves, especially over the murder of women, traditionally regarded as non-combatants in Dhofari battles.

The article also claimed that there were 20 advisers from the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) ‘on the ground’ and that North Korea was also involved in training the PF.

Yet Graham also believed that the period August 1970 to May 1971 was the ‘tipping point’ of the campaign. Why? Firstly, the Conservative Heath government had been elected in UK in June 1970, with a decided bias in favour of western interests in the Gulf. Secondly, as a consequence of the coup, the political situation in Oman had changed irrevocably for the better. Thirdly, the Firqat Force was eventually to act as a force multiplier . Fourthly, the denial of PF supplies by putting the ‘cork in the bottle’ at Sarfait, what was to become Operation SIMBA, was deemed as feasible, even if it was not then achievable. Most critically, Oman’s predicament was raised to the international level.[15]

In addition, SAF was acting in accordance with that famous motto of British Airborne Forces in World War 2, Ad Unum Omnes — All to One Purpose. There were no ponderous committees and, as CSAF, Graham was able to act on instinct. UK military support had also much improved via the Consul General, David Crawford, and later the British Ambassador, Donald Hawley. Though here, short-termism was all too apparent and granted only if Oman was ‘a horse worth backing’[16] yet not sufficient to prevail. Graham attempted to persuade the Omanis that alternative sources of loan service officers might be sought. In response, Seyyid Tariq was adamant: ‘We will not change; we know the British and get on well with them. Furthermore they lead from the front’.[17]

But the lack of support for Oman in London was all too obvious. When the CGS, Michael Carver, visited he remarked, ‘The impediments to support for Oman do not come from the military side in London but wholly from the politicians, and they are ruled by the Treasury.’ Hugh Oldman visited London in mid June 1972 also to attempt to ease the funding issue, retorting, ‘Bloody British! They all show interest in Oman, but there is NO plan to help financially — not even by a reduction in the capitation charges…It is disgraceful. The Arab nations must help Oman, but the UK and US should take the lead. The British, after all, started the rot here when they left Aden’.[18] It has to be remembered too that most Omanis were indifferent to the situation on Dhofar. The saying, ‘if in your path you meet a snake and a Dhofari, first kill the Dhofari’, neatly summarising the antipathy felt.

‘The British, after all, started the rot here when they left Aden’.

Graham also had concerns about the perceived deteriorating relationship between the British elements in SAF and the Sultanate, claiming that there was an erosion of trust and esteem through ill-discipline, carelessness, neglect and theft.[1]9] His deputy, Colonel Colin Maxwell was similarly forced to take action over Oman/Baluch tensions when recruits at the SAF Training Regiment (SAFTR) refused to parade. [20] ‘Omanisation was also at an early stage, with the first directive on Arabic ranks and appointments issued in August 1971.[21] John Graham ‘s concern for the highest of standards among SAF was evident, criticising poor discipline.[22]

A record of Graham’s time

Graham’s diary provides the most intimate record of his time as CSAF.[23] His diary notes of 29 January 1971 are also revealingly honest: adoo junior leadership were better trained and our companies were being pinned down and outranged by superior firepower; artillery support was ‘too weak’; SOAF reaction times ‘not fast enough’; GPMG (SF) and 60mmm mortars were much needed.

Tensions at the high command level were also evident. Qaboos’ direction concerning civilians in enemy held areas could not have been more stark: ‘not to have any compunction about hurting [them] in enemy held areas.’. Graham was highly critical of the lack of political direction from Qaboos, the poor rapport between the Government and the Defence Department and the absence of any Information Operations to counter that from Radio Aden. It was also Graham’s opinion that ‘the loss of Dhofar to the Marxists is becoming an increasingly likely contingency’.

Colonel Mike Harvey had by now returned as Commander Dhofar Area (CDA) and Graham was obviously impressed with his performance. Harvey was ‘prickly’ and it soon transpired that he and the SAS squadron leader, Tony Jeapes, were arguing over the effectiveness of the firqat. His suspicions over the reliability of the firqats was frequently mentioned. Similarly, Harvey was ‘at loggerheads’ with Lieutenant Colonel Karl Beale, the newly arrived CO of the North Frontier Regiment (NFR).

The firqat were essential to the defeat of the adoo but ‘selfish and self-interested, unstable and grasping, needing to be tribally organised at a maximum of 70 per firqat with SAS (the BATT) in support; ‘keep them busy and watch with suspicion’. ‘The SAS have become a bit starry-eyed about their firqa protégés.’ The firqat were also complaining directly to Qaboos over their treatment by Harvey. ‘The truth is that we are all grossly over-worked, under-staffed and in many cases have to rely upon subordinates unsuitable for their appointments.’ Graham was also critical of the ability of the SAS to report events and give opinion without reference to his own command: ‘some (SAS) signals are misleading, slanted and exaggerated.’

‘The SAS have become a bit starry-eyed about their firqa protégés.’

A more positive note was in the arrival of Donald Hawley, soon to take over as Britain’s first Ambassador to Oman. The decision in London on 10 August to authorise a second SAS squadron and Tac HQ was also a major step in the right direction. With justification, Graham wondered quite why the BATT reports, which he never saw, seemed so wrongly construed. By 23 August Graham stated that he was ‘beginning to conclude that the defeat of the Marxists and the liberation of Dhofar may be beyond our capability.’ He celebrated his 30th year in the Army, having enlisted on 24 August 1941 with the recollection from London that ‘Dhofar is viewed as a tiresome commitment.’

Morale at RAF Salalah was also of concern. Graham was somewhat unimpressed with a visiting RAF Roman Catholic priest, who seemed to consider that placing airmen in harm’s way was an unacceptable policy. The shelling of 23 July and its casualties led to three contractor resignations.

Managing expectations

At the heart of the matter was the view from London. Johnny Watts, CO 22 SAS, visited in early July to update as best he could. It was recognised that the BATT was having a difficult time with the Firqat. Military aid had to be of short duration and remain covert, declining after mid- 72. There were fears of a ‘mini-Vietnam’, with Vanessa Redgrave’s campaign to ‘free Dhofar’ at its height. Where was proof that Dhofaris wanted liberation at all? Time was not on the side of Qaboos or SAF. Graham briefed Qaboos on all these issues and to his credit, he took the point, broadcasting a powerful message to his people on the anniversary of the 1970 coup.

Graham reviewed progress to date in mid-July 1971.[24] There was now a small brigade HQ at Salalah. Sudh had been recaptured in March 1971. Civil Action Teams (CATs) were now operating. Food control was partially effective but could not be completely so as Salalah townsfolk required firewood from the jebel and thus a two way process allowed food to be smuggled as well as traded for wood. Surrendered Enemy Personnel (SEPs) numbered 261. Information Operations were slowly getting under way. Overall, enemy casualties were estimated as being five times those of SAF. By now five firqats had been formed and the NFR plus firqat was established at a forward operating base (FOB) at Akoot, thereby attracting artillery and mortars otherwise destined for Salalah. But recruiting was poor. There was as yet no permanent presence on the jebel owing to delays in the procurement of AB 205 helicopters, an overall lack of infantry and logistics and weaknesses identified in the firqat. ‘Thus a stalemate continues to exist’.

Graham set out his requirements: for the RAF to man the ‘hedgehogs’ so as to protect Salalah; for a second SAS squadron; and a psyops team. He was also critical of the tendency in London not to recognise acts of bravery and that secondees continued to be sidelined by the career planners, despite their obvious combat experience.

Graham set out his second directive to Commander Dhofar in early September 1971.[25] Priority was to be given to the establishment of a secure FOB on the eastern jebel so as to permit BATT/firqat offensive operations (Operation JAGUAR) commanded by CO BATT (ie CO 22 SAS). Second priority was the security of the Salalah plains area together with the guarded settlements. Third priority was the conduct of offensive operation in the western area, especially attacks on arms dumps and main supply routes (MSRs), as well as the recruitment of Firqat from that area. He also warned Mike Harvey to be prepared to assume command of all firqat forces on the withdrawal of BATT.

The acceptance of Oman into the Arab League was also good news, as was the recommendation by the UNSC that Oman should be accepted into the General Assembly of the UN.

Military Aid to the Civil Power (MACP) dominated September of 1971 in Muttrah and Muscat and curfews were imposed. A total of twenty arrests were made and a Special Tribunal dealt with all charges. Meanwhile, many applications for retirement in the face of second Dhofar tours arose. In Graham’s own words, ‘We have a formidable task ahead of us in Dhofar’.[26 His trepidation was well founded, as PRC had announced via the BBC that Dhofar was rated second only to Vietnam in its importance. [27] His sense of dismay was further heightened at the cessation of the OMEX patrols on 28 September 1971, where British patrols form Bahrein had for the past 10 years visited Oman. The good news was that PFLOAG was itself reported as ‘depressed’ and PDRY ‘politically isolated’. The acceptance of Oman into the Arab League was also good news, as was the recommendation by the UNSC that Oman should be accepted into the General Assembly of the UN. The attitude of the firqats was also encouraging — ’raring to go into battle on account of recent atrocities in their tribal area…we do not expect firqats to take many prisoners. We encourage this as they have old scores to settle.’[28]

But progress, slow perhaps, was being made and on 2 October 1971 Operation JAGUAR was launched in the east so as to gain a permanent base on the jebel. After some hard fighting by B and G Squadrons of 22 SAS plus troops from SAF, a total of 1000 men were all ‘in’ by 1500 that day. In all, 100 square kilometre were eventually secured around Jibjat by 11 October. But the Front was by no means beaten and it was deemed necessary to insert a line of interdiction to the north of Mughsayl, the Leopard Line, later to be superseded by the Hornbeam Line further west. SAF also suffered 7 officers killed in 1971. [29]

All was not well with the firqat ,as Graham recounts: ‘The firqat are causing trouble; they want to go back to coastal villages for Ramadam, want to return to their families, want more SAF soldiers to guard them; want, want, want! Vexing people!’ But the good news was that the SEP were ‘for the first time giving unsolicited and accurate information about adoo locations’. Yet, ‘the firqats are playing up; demanding more money, more SAF, more leave etc. BATT are pretty angry with their proteges’.

Field Marshal Carver visited in his capacity as CGS and agreed that the two SAS squadrons could stay on until April 1972, an extra 6 months than originally envisaged, his emphasis being that whilst MOD wished to assist, the obstructions were political, not military. But the future employment of the SAS was itself problematic, given very firm strictures on any SAS deployments in the more hostile western Dhofar and at most, they could be utilised in AN intermediate blocking line in lieu.

Meanwhile, the very first helicopter raid, Operation SCIMITAR, into the extreme western approaches was launched in early November 1971 and Operation LEOPARD was mounted. Graham knew that he needed more troops in Dhofar. He was deeply impressed by the Military Secretary’s interest in his situation. He was less impressed with the lack of interest shown by the RAF. [30] Equally, the war was taking its toll on the seconded loan service officers. ‘ Morale is a tender plant’.[31]

The BATT was set to withdraw by the end of March 1972 and it was intended that the war would be over by July 1972. Operations in 1972 would include the ongoing pacification of the eastern jebel, containment of the central jebel and Operation LION (in March 1972) to cut the MSR in the far west. Operation CHEETAH, the pacification of the far west, would follow from LION. SAF would take over firqat responsibilities from BATT in February, allowing the latter to withdraw by the end of March. BATT wanted permission to operate with SAF in the far west as well and if not granted, would wish to operate in the centre.

Graham’s hopes now were that the Oman — Jordan alliance might perhaps provide the salvation of Oman so badly needed.

Graham’s hopes now were that the Oman — Jordan alliance might perhaps provide the salvation of Oman so badly needed. A conference on HMS Eagle attended by CGS at Masirah made clear that 1972 was to be ‘a year of decision’. Graham himself realised that he was ‘tired’ and was gratified with the news that he would be replaced in October 1972, 6 months earlier than originally planned. His diary entry for his 49th birthday said it all: ‘I both look and feel it!’[32]

The good news was from Kuwait, that PFLOAG had given up hope of winning outright military victory in Dhofar but was planning for a campaign of political and subversive infiltration over a 5 to 10 year period in lieu. Why this never occurred remains one of the unsolved questions of the Dhofar war. At the same time, the MOD COS paper on the future of RAF bases in Dhofar was proposing that RAF Salalah should be abandoned in favour of RAF Masirah, a proposal which, had it been accepted, would have had devastating consequences for the Dhofar war. [33] Fortunately, the FCO took a more robust line, stating that ‘as long as we need Masirah (certainly for another five years or so) we shall need to be certain that pacification in the Dhofar is real.’[34]

Motivation and time

Graham’s assessment of the military situation as at 14 February 1972 deserves attention, given its detail.[35] Overall, he claimed that deficiencies in surgical cover, the firqat, air transport and fire support had been remedied. Motivation and time were key influences. Achievements in 1971 and 1972 had so far included: government control of the Plains Area between Taqa and Rayzut; no shelling or mortaring of RAF Salalah since 8 August 1971; civil contractors and Engineers were drilling at will on the Plains; towns were wired in and food distribution under control; there was no enemy activity in Salalah or Taqa and civilian morale had improved; there had been no sabotage or assassinations; there had been no enemy activity around Marbat(!) or Sudh for many months; government control of the bedu of theNegd was much improved; Akoot was drawing enemy fire; ambushes and harrying fire missions were taking place in the west; Operation JAGUAR in October 1971 had resulted in 82 enemy killed and 53 SEPs, compared to 14 SAF killed and 58 wounded in the same timeframe; 22 SAS was playing a significant role; and Operations LEOPARD, PUMA and COUGAR were planned to ensure the blocking of enemy resupply to the east.

The direction from London was clear: to hold areas seized, especially the Salalah Plain; to continue pacification in the east; and to mount a decisive blocking operation of the Main Supply Route in the west. [36] There was obvious concern that any military action so close to the border with PDRY should be clearly demarcated and hence the Directive[37] to Graham of May 1972 that (para3 ) ‘conflicts of interest were to be referred to the British Ambassador’ and that (para 4) ‘no operations outside Oman were permitted without the approval of HMG.’ The notion, still heard in some quarters, that Graham’s loyalty was to the Sultan alone is somewhat refuted by both documents!

Jordan had by now offered its support. SAF had continued to improve, most notably, its commanders. East Dhofar was now almost completely clear of enemy. The threat to Salalah was much diminished. Sarfait was the turning point, the transition from ‘volley ball to rugger’. This was primarily a consequence of the deliberate raising of stakes by Qaboos via the United Nations, the text of ‘The Case for Oman’ actually drafted by Graham. The core to this strategy was Qaboos’ decision to strike at Hauf in PDRY, Operation AQOOBA (Punishment) of 25 May 1972. Graham’s Operation Order for this, Operation KUNJA was signed off on 13 May by himself, somewhat refuting the notion in his autobiography that this was delegated to a contract officer so as to maintain the pretence that a member of HM Forces was not involved in an act of aggression against a sovereign state.[38] The mission was to cause maximum destruction within Hauf without harming civilians and on condition that no serving British personnel were to cross the PDRY border. The operation was of necessity briefed also to the British Ambassador but otherwise only eight officers were made aware of the plan. The possibility of retaliation from PDRY was also considered. The operation had the desired effect, with Saudi Arabia, the Gulf Sates, Jordan, North Yemen, Tunisia, Syria, Egypt, Libya and Iran now supportive of Oman’s stance.

The operation had the desired effect, with Saudi Arabia, the Gulf Sates, Jordan, North Yemen, Tunisia, Syria, Egypt, Libya and Iran now supportive of Oman’s stance.

By 5 June Graham was signing off orders for covert action into Mahra territory and Major General Timothy Creasey formally nominated as Graham’s successor in October. Nigel Knocker’s battalion was finally relieved after a gruelling 9 month tour of Sarfait on the PDRY border, in which the Battalion had suffered 11 killed and 40 wounded.

Of immediate military benefit was the shipping of twelve 25 pounders from Jordan and sixty C-130 Hercules loads of combat supplies from Iran, Operation CAVIAR. The Front defeat at Marbat on 19 July1972 has recently been portrayed as the final straw, yet in fact the war continued into late 1975. But there was a price to be paid and Graham admits, ‘I had been increasingly run down and exhausted….On17 June I passed out in my office’. He had to take a month of rest back in UK. Relief, in the form of the new CSAF, Timothy Creasey, was not far away.

During his time in London Graham had lunch with both Creasey and CGS, where the differences between SAS and SAF over the decision to deploy to the western approaches came under criticism. By now Brigadier Jack Fletcher had arrived and received his first directive from Graham in early August.[39] Graham’s final day in Dhofar was on 6 September. He was awarded the CBE in early December. Command of SAF thereafter was thus at two star level, with an established one star commander in Salalah, a luxury Graham never enjoyed.

In conclusion, the insurgency was in the process of being lost up until 1970, was ‘turned’ by Graham and then won by Creasey/Fletcher and after them, Ken Perkins (see a Fortunate Soldier, BAR 148, winter 2009/2010, pp 108–9) and John Akehurst (see We Won a War, 1982). John Graham set the scene for what remains the most successful counterinsurgency in modern history, the ‘Arab Spring’ in Oman that pre-dated current awakenings by some forty years — no small achievement.

David Benest is a retired colonel who experienced five years of accumulated service in Northern Ireland and six years in the Ministry of Defence as a technical sponsor for Counter-Terrorism. He wrote the history of 2 PARA in the Falklands War of 1982, where he was Signals Officer. More recently he was the counterinsurgency adviser at the British Embassy in Kabul. David is currently researching the most successful of all British-led counter-insurgencies in Dhofar between 1965 and 1976.

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[1] Interview Benest/Graham, Hindhead, Surrey, 6 August and 2 September 2009

[2] John Graham, Ponder Anew: Reflections on the Twentieth Century,Spellmount, Staplehurst, 1999, pp 313–4

[3] FCO 46/609 Chiefs of Staff Committee, 17 March 1970

[4] Graham, op cit p 322

[5] Graham op cit p 323

[6] Interview Benest, Court, Graham, Hindhead, Surrey, 13 July 2010

[7] Graham op cit, p 347

[8] The Economist, Economic Review of the Arabian Peninsula ,Sheikdoms and Republics, 18 March 1971

[9] Dr Sherif Lotfy, Economic Development in Oman 1970–1885, Secretary General, Development Council, Confederation of British Industry, London, 16 December 1980

[10] Brigadier J D C Graham CBE, A Paper on the Persian Gulf: Security After the British Withdrawal New Delhi, 14 July 1973

[11] Sultan of Oman’s Air Force SOAF/S101/Air dated 13 October 1970 by P J Hirst, Wg Cdr, CSOAF

[12] Appreciation of the Dhofar Situation, February 1971(S)

[13] Directive for Commander Dhofar For 1971,HQ SAF PLANS/7 dated 12 February 1971

[14] John Bulloch, Oil, Trouble or Wealth for the Arabian Desert?, Daily Telegraph Magazine, 23 April 1971

[15] Interview 6 August 2009

[16] Graham, op cit p 350

17] Graham, op cit p 354

[18] Graham, op cit p 355

[19] Graham DO letter date 14 June 1971, HQ SAF, BAF

[20] Ill Discipline at SAFTR, C C Maxwell, Col, DCSAF, HQ SAF CR1160 dated August 1971

[21] Arabic Ranks, Formations and Appointments, HQ SAF 118/1/DC dated 31 August 1971

[22] Elementary Discipline in the Forces,Oman’, J D Graham, Comd HQ SAF AQ/57 dated 23 August 1972

[23] J D C Graham, Diary, January 1971 — October 1972, MEA, St John’s College, Oxford

[24] CSAF’s Review of the Situation in the Sultanate, HQ SAF, 17 July 1971, Secret UK Eyes Only

[25] Directive For Commander Dhofar, HQ SAF, BAF, PLANS/7 dated 9 September 1971

[26] Graham Diary entry 14 September 1971

[27] Ibid 17 September 1971

[28] Ibid 30 September 1971

[29] Graham Diary entry 18 October 1971

[30] Graham Diary entry 23 November 1971

[31] Ibid 26 November 1971

[32] Graham Diary entry 18 January 1972

[33] DEFE 25/187, The Oman; Speaking Notes for CDS, prepared for Chiefs of Staff Committee Meeting, 13 December 1971

[34] DEFE25/187 Weir to ACDS (Pol), Oman, 14 December 1971

[35] J D C Graham, Brigadier, CSAF Assessment of the Military Situation in Dhofar as at 14 February 1972, HQ SAF DO dated 17 Feb 72

[36] Future UK Defence Activity in Oman, MOD COS 37/72 dated 29 Mar 72, para 27

[37] Directive to the Commander of Sultan of Oman’s Armed Force, MOD COS 62/72 dated 24 May 72

[38] Operations Against PFLOAG Sanctuary in HAUF, HQ SAF, BAF, Plans/7 dated 13 May 1972 (TS) signed by Brig Graham

[39] Directive for Commander Dhofar for August — September 1972, HQ SAF, BAF, Plans/7 dated 5 August 1972 to Brigadier J S Fletcher OBE