Guerilla forces in Oman's southern province of Dhofar are being fought on two fronts by Sultan Qabus Bin Said.
Guerilla forces in Oman's southern province of Dhofar are being fought on two fronts by Sultan Qabus Bin Said. Besides the military action waged by the Sultan's armed forces and the irregular "Firgats" (loyal hill tribesmen), a wide-ranging programme of social reform is underway, to win "the hearts and minds" of all the people in the province, By embarking on this programme, Sultan Qabus seems to be taking a leaf from the writings of Chairman Mao, in his fight against the Marxist "Popular Front for the Liberation of Oman and the Arabian Gulf" (PFLOAG).
Dhofar Province first became the scene of guerrilla activity eight years ago, during the rule of Sultan Qabus's father. The old sultan imposed an ultra conservative rule over his kingdom, forcing his people to maintain an archaic way-of-life. Western influences were unwelcome: the motor car was banned, although the country derives all its wealth from oil revenues.
In June 1970, a palace revolution put Sultan Qabus in power. His progressive views took much of the impetus away from the rebel cause. At that time, the guerrilla movement was called the "National Liberation Front (NLF).
The NLF, and now the PFLOAG, has received much of its support from The People's Republic of China and the Soviet Union. Cuba and North Korea too, support the Marxist guerrilla movement, and there have been reports that Cuban pilots have been flying in South Yemen, where the PFLOAG have a secure base.
The Sultan appears to have been successful against the guerrillas on both fronts. The Omani Armed Forces (SAF) have virtually confined all guerrilla activity to the western part of Dhofar, along the province's border with South Yemen. Operation Mainbrace in 1972 forced the PFLOAG to retreat to the west; and a line of Omani patrol posts, "The Hornbeam Line", has kept the guerrillas in the western hills that border on South Yemen.
The SAF is an army of 10,000 men, supported by 250 British officers and soldiers, who have either been seconded or are on contract to the Sultan, as well as over 100 Pakistani troops. The armed forces, that cost over 30 million Riyals (33 million sterling) a year to maintain, are supported by irregular hillsmen in Dhofar, who owe allegiance to, and are paid by, the government.
The social programme has included building of schools, hospitals, and an agricultural research station in the province,as well as providing water irrigation schemes and cattle-rearing projects. The programmes have taken time to get off the ground, but have proved to be effective.
The agricultural schemes are a part of the larger programme launched by the Sultan Qabus to lesson Oman's economic dependence on oil. Schools have been opened in the western part of the province by the government in recent weeks, after they had discovered Jabali children were being taken, often forcibly, by the guerrillas to schools across the border, where they were given a Marxist-oriented education.
Most of the fighting now takes place in areas adjacent to the border with South Yemen, around government outposts established during the recent Operation Simba, but it appears the government's two campaigns are having a good deal of success.
SYNOPSIS: The seemingly barren mountains of western Oman have been the scene of fighting between Oman government forces and pro-Communist guerrillas in recent years. This area, nick-named the "White City", and other regions have been brought under government control in a two-pronged campaign.
In his fight against the Popular Front for the Liberation of Oman and the Arabian Gulf, the Sultan of Oman has hill tribesmen on his side. Known as "Firgats," they owe allegiance to, and are paid by, the government. British officers have been seconded to assist the Omani forces.
The guerrillas have been active in Oman for over eight years. Sultan Qabus, who came to power in 1970, when he overthrew his father in a palace revolution, had done much to take the impetus away from the guerrilla cause. His expansion of the armed forces and wide ranging social reforms have done much to bring Oman into the Twentieth Century.
Recently, the Umani armed forces have launched a series of major operations against the guerrillas. But they have been denied total success because the guerrillas have been able to take shelter in neighbouring South Yemen. The regime in South Yemen is pro-Communist and sympathetic to the Marxist guerrillas. The anti-government forces have received support from the Soviet Union and The People's Republic of China, as well as Cuba and North Korea.
The "Hornbeam Line", a string of government patrol posts, have helped to contain the guerrillas. The line runs along the Jebel mountains, and prevents the rebels from resupplying units inside Oman.
Now that the government has effectively gained miliary supremacy it has embarked on a programme of social reform. It is, some say, a move to win the "hearts and minds" of he people. Not only will Tribesmen benefit from advances in agriculture, the improvements will help the country become less dependent, economically, on oil.
A new hospital was recently completed in Salalah, the provincial capital of Dhofar. The Sultan of Oman lives in Salalah most of the year, and not in Muscat, the nation's capital. An appendectomy on a young patient in the new hospital illustrates progress in bringing medical help to areas where it did not exist when Sultan Qabus came to power three years ago.
Only a few weeks ago, the government opened schools in the western part of the province, after it was found that the guerrillas had been taking the children away to give them a Communist-orientate education.