Read part 2 here

“For all their limitations, I don’t believe we could’ve won the war without the firqats,” says Ian Gardiner, a former Royal Marines officer with extensive service to include deployments in Oman, Northern Ireland, and the Falklands.

Before we delve into what the firqats, literally meaning a company, were and their operations with the SAS, we must first understand the Dhofaris and why they rebelled. The seminal reasons for the revolt, before it turned international, had been Dhofar’s perennial ill-treatment and negligence by the Sultans. They had been considered a second-class bunch. The fact that they’re ethnically different from the northern Omanis, and speak their own language and little Arabic, only isolated them even more.

They’re divided into tribes that work under a pure democratic principle. Leaders are chosen on merit, and pedigree is shunned upon. Everyone has a say on the tribe’s decisions. They’re inherently ungrateful, forthright, shrewd, and extremely avaricious—the true sons of their camel-riding raider ancestors. They’re also fiercely individualists—a trait, combined with their other characteristics, that made the SAS’ task of instilling military discipline to them an utter nightmare. They’re extremely agile and prefer to fight barefoot, only carrying a few spare magazines and the odd ration.

As most middle-easterners, they’re devoutly religious. And after the rebellion took a sharp turn towards the left, the adoo, literally meaning the enemy, political officers trained in Moscow and China struggled to introduce their atheist creed to the population. In fact, many captured adoo testified that this was counterproductive and something that pushed the people towards the government. In a counterinsurgency, where the population’s support is everything, such small details make all the difference.

Beginning in 1970, the Sultan’s Armed Forces’ (SAF) increased presence on the Jebel’s villages and the civil work of the SAS CAT teams gradually began to bear fruits. The almost nonexistent flow of adoo defectors loosened from few trickles to a steady stream.

The SAS jumped at the opportunity. A plan was devised wherein small SAS teams, known as the British Army Training Teams (BATTs), formed ex-adoo into firqats. The BATT was completely responsible for its firqat: from training and paying to equipment and health, they were constantly with their firqatmen. No wonder why great bonds of friendship developed between the former insurgents and the SAS. And as London catered for more troops, the BATTs grew, from six to twenty men, their number reflecting the size of the firqat they were responsible for.