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Civilian Casualties from British Military: The Dhofar Rebellion

This section provides a detailed account of recorded civilian casualties that resulted from the British military’s involvement in the Dhofar Rebellion.

When did this conflict occur?

9 June, 1963^ – January, 1976*

^ – Though the first armed act of the Dhofar Rebellion occurred on the 9th of June, 1963, the British Ministry of Defence only authorised the General Service Medal with Dhofar Clasp for personnel who had served in support of operations for a minimum of 30 days after the 1st of October, 1963. [1]

* – The Dhofar Rebellion was officially considered over in March of 1976; however, the defeat of PFLOAG forces during the Battle of Mirbat in July of 1972 signalled the beginning of the end for the insurgency. [2]

What is the background to this conflict?

Despite a successful 1954-1959 intervention, which eliminated resistance to the Sultan of Oman and Muscat by Imamate rebels, violence in Oman continued to escalate. In the Southwest province of Dhofar, tribal leaders coalesced to form the Dhofar Liberation Front and began a limited rebellion against government forces operating in the area. The Muscat Armed Forces, led and advised by British officers, responded with brutality which abated insurgent violence but failed to completely stop its growth. [3] In 1967, a Marxist regime ascended to power in neighbouring South Yemen and encouraged the DLF to adopt an ideological bent in exchange for an increased degree of military support; the movement was subsequently renamed the Popular Front for the Liberation of the Occupied Arab Gulf (PFLOAG) and embraced a new mission of unifying all Arabian emirates into a socialist state. [4] Growing in size and sophistication, the PFLOAG quickly succeeded in capturing much of Oman’s interior while security forces retained control of populated coastal regions and the administrative centre of Salalah. The turning point for the Sultanate came in June of 1970 when a palace coup, supported by the British government, replaced Sultan Said with his son, Qaboos. Sultan Qaboos quickly embarked on a campaign of political, economic, and military modernization: an amnesty campaign to former opponents of Sultan Said was introduced, an appeal to neighbouring states resulted in troop commitments from Iran and the United Arab Emirates, and the British presence in Oman expanded dramatically. [5] Aided by Iranian and British forces, the Sultanate effectively isolated the PFLOAG in the mountains of Dhofar while a series of progressive clearance operations crippled the insurgency’s military capabilities. Despite attempts to launch counter-offensives in Mirbat and Salalah, the PFLOAG had been fatally weakened, with remaining insurgent forces retreating into South Yemen by November of 1975. By January of the following year, the rebellion was largely declared over. 

What role did British military forces play?

The role of British forces in the Dhofar Rebellion can be split into two distinct phases. From 1963 to June of 1970, the period marking the start of the Dhofar Rebellion and lasting until the overthrow of Sultan Said bin Taimur, direct British military involvement remained limited, and counterinsurgency efforts centred on the Sultan of Oman’s Armed Forces. Staffed by former British officers on contract in addition to serving members of the Army and Royal Marines, the force’s enlisted personnel were largely volunteers drawn from Pakistan and Oman who had undergone training in the rigorous tradition of the British military. [6] Though effective at degrading the Dhofar Liberation Front’s operational capacity, the Sultan’s Armed Forces never succeeded in drawing DLF forces into conventional engagements where they could be finally destroyed; instead, the insurgency retained support of the Dhofari populace, with sympathetic civilians providing early warning of approaching government forces, offering provisions to fighters, and further obfuscating the SAF’s weak intelligence picture. Simultaneously, uniformed British forces were limited to guarding Salalah, although their role gradually expanded to include patrolling roads and transporting the Sultan’s forces due to the SAF’s limited airlift capability. [7] The fall of Sultan Said and the ascension of Sultan Qaboos, however, saw the creation of a four-stage counterinsurgency strategy combining military and political measures to address the PFLOAP’s growing strength: new civil action programs focusing on agricultural development were introduced, medical and veterinary services were now provided to isolated communities, and a dedicated intelligence and psychological operations cell were created. [8] British military forces were also expanded, with the introduction of a rotating squadron from the 22nd Special Air Service which focused on human intelligence collection as well as raising and leading the firqat, units of Dhofaris and surrendered PFLOAP fighters. [9] Though sporadic instances of violence continued, the irregular warfare role of 22 SAS in addition to a growing number of British personnel operating in the SAF played a vital role in regaining the military initiative from the PFLOAP, setting the conditions for the rebellion’s defeat by 1976. 

Can a figure of civilian deaths due to British military action be determined?

No, a total number of civilian deaths due to British military action cannot be determined. In contrast, a confirmed total of 25 British military personnel died in the conflict. [10]

Are there any trends or incidents of note?

Precise figures regarding noncombatant fatalities as a result of the Dhofar Rebellion were never provided but are believed to be approximately 8,000 over the span of the conflict. The overwhelming majority of these casualties stemmed from two key trends: reprisals against civilian areas by the SAF and killings committed by PFLOAP forces. SAF troops under Sultan Said frequently employed coercion against noncombatants in response to PFLOAP attacks; among their tactics were the poisoning of wells, the deliberate killing of livestock, and the shooting of civilians. [11] These killings, however, occurred under the guise of the Sultan’s Armed Forces, with British personnel only serving in contracted or seconded commissioned officer roles. As a result, civilian fatalities stemming from SAF reprisals, even if committed while such elements were subject to the command of a British-born officer, cannot be viewed as being the direct result of British military action.

Similarly, PFLOAP forces engaged in the deliberate targeting of civilians during the Dhofar Rebellion. As divisions within the insurgency against the Sultan grew, particularly between traditionalist leaders who remained committed to Islam and newer elements inspired by the ideological leanings of their South Yemeni state sponsors, PFLOAP forces frequently sought to coerce the local population in order to retain cooperation. Dissenting community leaders were subject to torture or assassination, while children were abducted and taken across the border to the Yemeni city of Hauf. In one instance in August of 1969, PFLOAP fighters overran the town of Rakhyut and summarily executed up to 80 civilian inhabitants. [12]

At least one instance occurred where the actions of British forces operating in uniform allegedly resulted in civilian deaths. On the 25th of May, 1972, Sultan Qaboo ordered a retaliatory attack on Hauf, in response to artillery bombardments which had killed five Omanis earlier in the month. Despite claims to have only struck legitimate military targets, however, PFLOAP leaders alleged that RAF personnel had killed numerous non-combatants after ordnance hit “the school, the medical centre, the literacy centre, and the houses of the people.” [13] At the same time, however, the lack of a concrete figure of civilian fatalities in addition to the fact that these statements stemmed from PFLOAP leaders raises key question regarding the veracity of these claims and precludes them from inclusion in a final figure of noncombatant deaths caused by the British military.


[1] UK armed forces Deaths: Operational deaths post World War II, Ministry of Defence, 2021,

[2] Hughes, Geraint, “A Proxy War in Arabia: The Dhofar Insurgency and Cross-Border Raids into South Yemen,” Middle East Journal 69, no. 1 (2015): 96.

[3] Hughes, Geraint, “A ‘Model Campaign’ Reappraised: The Counter-Insurgency War in Dhofar, Oman, 1965–1975,” Journal of Strategic Studies 32, no.2 (2009): 279. doi: 10.1080/01402390902743357

[4] FCO 8/2031 Popular Front For the Liberation of Oman and the Arabian Gulf, Arabian Gulf Digital Archives, 1977,

[5] Paul, Christopher et al., “Oman (Dhofar Rebellion), 1965–1975: Case Outcome: COIN Win,” in Paths to Victory: Detailed Insurgency Case Studies (Santa Monica: RAND Corporation, 2013): 281.

[6] DeVore, Marc R., “ A more complex and conventional victory: revisiting the Dhofar counterinsurgency, 1963–1975,” Small Wars & Insurgencies 23, no.1 (2012): 147. doi: 10.1080/09592318.2012.632861

[7] UKNA, “BC 1102/9”, 1965, in Al-Kharusi, Khalid S. S. THE DHOFAR WAR 1965 – 1975 (Lancashire: University of Central Lancashire, 2018): 78.

[8] [2] Monick, S., “VICTORY IN HADES: THE FORGOTTEN WARS OF THE OMAN, 1957-1959 AND 1970-1976,” Scientia Militaria: South African Journal of Military Studies 12, no. 3 (1982): 7. doi: 10.5787/12-4-600

[9] Paul et al., “Oman (Dhofar Rebellion),” 280.

[10] UK armed forces Deaths: Operational deaths post World War II, Ministry of Defence.

[11] Ian Cobain, “Britain’s Secret Wars”, The Guardian, 2016,

[12] McKeown, John. Britain and Oman: The Dhofar War And Its Significance (Cambridge: University of Cambridge, 1981): 44.

[13] Halliday, Fred. Arabia Without Sultans (London: Saqi Books, 2001): 338.