“The Special Air Service is superfluous. It doesn’t belong to our Cold War army.”

This was your conventional post-war British military thinking. Following the defeat of Nazi Germany, the “anomaly” of the SAS had been corrected and the Regiment disbanded. It took a communist insurgency in Malaya (1950-1960) to resurrect it. But its position still remained precarious: The unit was in constant survival mode. The 1958 Jebel Akhdar Operation would alter that forever.

The Jebel Akhdar (the green mountain) dominates Oman’s interior. Eighty miles southwest from the capital Muscat, this sea of mountains with peaks as 10,000ft high, covers an area of 135 square miles. Its plateaus of solid granite are home to 58 villages. Over 700 wadis transverse the mountains. In 1958, there were few roads — if you could call them that — and transportation meant donkey rides. Narrow passes and sheer cliffs made it a defender’s dream. And in November 1958, there were a lot of dreamers hidden within its rocky bosom.

The Imam of Oman proper, ruler of a semi-independent province in Oman’s interior of which the Jebel Akhdar was part of, along with the local Sheikh had begun a rebellion against the Sultan in 1957. Their motives were quite reasonable. After the discovery of oil in the region, the Sultan had repudiated a treaty, annexed Oman proper, and exiled the Imam and his family. With Saudi support, the rebellion defeated the Sultan’s Armed Forces (SAF). The Sultan then requested help from Britain, who had considerable oil and military interests in the country.

British units deployed from neighboring Aden, overwhelmed the rebels, and forced their remnants into the Jebel Akhdar. But that’s where their success ended. They couldn’t assault the impregnable plateaus; and the rebels, in turn, couldn’t defeat them on the plains below.

Artillery and air attacks were ineffective on the vast Jebel. Helicopters couldn’t land because of the altitude and the lack of landing spots. A two-year stalemate ensued. The British withdrew, leaving a token force to contain the remaining rebels. But with ample weapons and ammunition, and the discrete support of Saudi Arabia, the rebels persisted. (The irony of war: British U.S.-made Jeeps were being destroyed by U.S.-made mines given to the rebels by the Saudis).

The rebels raided villages outside the Jebel and ambushed SAF and British forces. Casualties began to spike. London decided to act. But a brigade would be required to flush them out. With the 1956 Suez fiasco only a year old, and an acute political fear of casualties present, alternatives were sought. Enter the SAS.

At the time, the Regiment was fighting the communist insurgency in Malaya. And the conventional British army hierarchy questioned its ability to perform in such a different battlefield in so short a notice. But some thought otherwise.