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Civilian Casualties from British Military: The Muscat and Oman Intervention

This section provides a detailed account of recorded civilian casualties that resulted from the British military’s involvement in the Muscat and Oman Intervention.

When did this conflict occur?

10th October, 1954^ – 30th January, 1959*

^- Though the 10th of October, 1954, marked the beginning of open hostilities between the British-supported Sultan of Muscat and Oman and the Imamate of Oman, the reinforced British land component which mounted the offensive on the rebel enclave in Jebel Akhdar only arrived in late 1958. [1]

* – The capture of Jebel Akhdar’s plateau by elements of the 22nd Special Air Service as well as local forces on the 30th of January, 1959 was the final large-scale operation of the Muscat and Oman intervention; however, the combined operation failed to yield a significant military defeat against the Imamate, as the Oman Liberation Army elected to melt back into the civilian populace or flee into neighbouring Saudi Arabia. [2]

What is the background to this conflict?

Since the 19th century, the British government provided political and military support to the Sultan of Muscat and Oman who dominated the coastal region of Muscat while possessing limited influence in the state’s interior, an area controlled by the Imamate of Oman. This relationship was formalised under the Treaty of Seeb in 1920 in which the Sultan of Muscat and Oman held sovereignty over larger state affairs while the Imamate retained autonomy in matters of domestic governance. [3] The agreement, however, was abrogated following the 1954 decision by Sultan Sa’id ibn Taymur to grant an oil concession in an area under Imamate control; Imam Ghalib bin Ali responded by announcing his intention to seek independence for the Omani interior and launched an uprising against the Sultan’s forces which included a British-led gendarmerie known as the Trucial Oman Scouts. Though the uprising was swiftly defeated in 1955, its goal of independence endured in Ghalib’s brother, Talib, who escaped to Saudi Arabia before returning in 1957 with a reformed Oman Liberation Army under his command. Numbering over 200 and equipped with Saudi-supplied armaments, the OLA succeeded in overwhelming the Sultan’s beleaguered security forces and prompted a British intervention which regained the initiative. [4] Nonetheless, OLA troops remained entrenched in the Jebel Akhdar mountain range, with the Sultan’s forces lacking the military capabilities needed to effectively isolate the rebel enclave. As OLA attacks continued in 1958, the British military, with elements of the 22nd Special Air Service in the lead, embarked on a renewed offensive in support of the Sultan which ultimately succeeded in capturing Jebel Akhdar from the Oman Liberation Army in January of 1959. [5]

What role did British military forces play?

The initial British military presence in support of the Sultan of Oman and Muscat consisted primarily of seconded and contract officers leading local troops under the Trucial Oman Scouts, the Northern Frontier Regiment, and the Muscat Armed Forces. Following the Oman Liberation Army’s renewed offensive in 1957, the British ground force expanded to include a rifle company with a reduced battalion headquarters and weapons platoon from the Scottish Cameronians in addition a single cavalry troop from 15/19 Kings Hussars equipped with Ferret Scout cars. [6] Though successful at halting the OLA, the British contingent remained limited in strength, and, upon its withdrawal, the security situation deteriorated once again. Amidst this, Royal Air Force Venom jets and four-engine Shackleton bombers maintained a consistent presence in Oman and engaged in numerous aerial interdiction operations against OLA troops; however, the extensive air campaign similarly proved insufficient to counter the growing threat of Imamate revolutionaries. The continued failure of the Sultan’s security forces to address the OLA enclave at Jebel Akhdar finally resulted in a second British intervention consisting of a full squadron from the Life Guards and, perhaps most crucially, A and D Squadrons of the 22nd Special Air Service. [7] With recent operational experience in the jungles of Malaya, 22 SAS quickly embarked on a relentless cycle of reconnaissance on Jebel Akhdar while simultaneously whittling down the Imamate’s military strength through aggressive Vector Force fighting patrols. In January of 1959, both squadrons, supported by local Omani troops, succeeded in scaling the Southern face of Jebel Akhdar and met the OLA in a series of intense, close-in engagements that saw the Jebel’s plateau cleared of Imamate forces. [8] Limited resistance followed, and, by the 30th of January, the intervention had come to an end.

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 60 British military personnel died in the conflict. [9]

Are there any trends or incidents of note?

Though a precise figure of noncombatant fatalities caused by British military forces in the Muscat and Oman intervention cannot be provided, information regarding the deployments of specific units as well as primary source documentation lends insight into possible patterns of civilian harm. Noncombatant deaths as a result of direct British ground action is likely to be limited in nature given the size and scope of the UK’s offensive capability in Muscat and Oman. Even with the 1958 expansion of the British ground force in support of the Sultan, which saw the arrival of the Life Guards and the 22nd Special Air Service, general security duties in populated areas remained the purview of the Muscat Armed Forces in addition to British-officered units such as the Northern Frontier Regiment and the Muscat Regiment; elements of the Life Guards and 22 SAS were, instead, centred on conducting reconnaissance and limited direct action strikes against OLA concentrations on Jebel Akhdar. [10]Despite this, there is a high likelihood of civilian deaths as a result of the British air campaign in support of the Sultanate. The primary aim of the RAF effort was the reduction of dissident morale by targeting key civilian infrastructure including date gardens, fields, water tanks, and irrigation systems. These efforts attained such a high degree of effectiveness that Air Marshal David Lees noted that “cultivation and movement by daylight in the villages under attack came virtually to a standstill”. [11] In addition to the deliberate destruction of water supplies in civilian areas, RAF personnel also embarked on a campaign of punitive bombing against villages suspected of offering support to the OLA. Targeted villages would receive a warning providing the “minimum time” needed to evacuate inhabitants but not to “allow them to remove all valuables and livestock” prior to the arrival of Shackleton and Venom aircraft. [12] This continued escalation of RAF in addition to land-based artillery strikes by the Muscat Armed Forces allowed the Sultan to maintain consistent pressure on non-combatants in Jebel Akhdar; such bombardments, however, also constituted the majority of casualties suffered in mountain villages during the second British intervention from 1958-1959. Exact figures of non-combatant fatalities as a result of this have not been recorded, with the sole reference to civilian casualties being a note regarding “three slightly wounded” villagers in a Foreign and Commonwealth Office document. [13]


[1] The War in the Green Mountains of Oman, The Royal Green Jackets (Rifles) Museum Winchester, 2021,

[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): 18-19. doi: 10.5787/12-4-600

[3] Treaty of Al-Sib, Britannica, 2022,

[4] Paul, Christopher et al, “Oman (Imamate Uprising), 1957–1959: Case Outcome: COIN Win,” in Paths to Victory: Detailed Insurgency Case Studies, 111–17. RAND Corporation, 2013.

[5] Monick, “VICTORY IN HADES,” 20.

[6] Monick, “VICTORY IN HADES,” 9.

[7] Meagher, John B. The Jebel Akhdar War Oman 1954-1959 (Quantico: Marine Corps Command and Staff College, 1985): 158-167.

[8] Newsinger, John. British Counterinsurgency (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015): 143-144. 

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

[10] Monick, “VICTORY IN HADES,” 11-14.

[11] Newsinger, British Counterinsurgency, 141.

[12] See primary source

[13] See primary source