Don’t miss out on Part One.

How do you defeat an insurgency?

How do you win over a people who has been treated as second-class citizens for centuries? Throughout history, many a politician and military officer have lost sleep over such questions. Yet a particular strategy seems to work—blend in with the population, gain their trust by concrete actions, and chances are that you’ll succeed.

Mao wrote that an insurgency must first retreat and gather forces, then build infrastructure and population trust, and finally counterattack. A shrewd counterinsurgency, thus, would aim to disrupt the transition between these phases, thereby strangling the insurgency in its infancy.

That’s exactly what the Sultan of Oman and his British allies sought to accomplish. The area of operations, Dhofar, was to be cleared, held, and developed. Enter the SAS. Oman wasn’t unfamiliar territory for Britain’s special operators. In the short Jebel Akhdar campaign of 1958, the SAS had been called to help the old Sultan against another revolt. In what was a typical SAS operation, two squadrons had scaled a precipitous mountain under the cover of darkness and surprised and overwhelmed the rebels in a short and violent battle.

Although the terrain, a combination of steep mountains, known as the Jebel, arid thorny scrub, deep wadis, which contained most of the region’s water supplies, and jungle, the result of the seasonal monsoons that run from mid-June through September, would be familiar, the enemy wouldn’t. This time around, they wouldn’t be fighting a few rogue tribesmen, but a well-disciplined, well-equipped communist insurgency that was operating from a haven, the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen (PDRY).

Led by Major Tony Jeapes, an SAS Troop was dispatched in the summer of 1970. The British government’s horror of publicity restricted the number of the SAS to just twenty. They established their base at Um Al Gwarif. A few tents, an operations room, an armory, and a radio room were the only dwellings they could get away with.