The early 1970s. With the help of the British, the Sultan of Oman is in the final stages of winning a communist insurgency in the southern part of his country (Dhofar). British contribution was limited to a few Royal Air Force (RAF) squadrons, seconded officers and enlisted men to lead the local troops, and — crucially — Special Air Service (SAS) troopers. Spearheading a hearts-and-minds strategy, the SAS managed to convince the local population to fight against the communist influence and side with the Sultan.

With the war almost won, SAS troopers were being redeployed elsewhere. But the communist threat from the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen (PDRY), persisted. The Sultan and his British advisers pondered their strategy. The Sultan craved revenge. But the British excluded an all-out invasion of the PDRY, both because of geopolitical and military considerations.

Why not try proxy war?

Proxy war means paying and training someone else to harm your enemy.

Such a campaign, usually, aims to either coerce your opponent into submitting to your will, weaken and disrupt his forces, or bring about a favourable political change.

Check as many of these boxes as you can, and you’ve got yourself a successful proxy war. Or at least that’s the typical strategic thinking. And yet it doesn’t always work that way.

Operation Dhib, literally meaning wolf, wasn’t aimed at harming — at least seriously — the PDRY, Oman’s southern neighbor and the insurgency’s haven and chief supporter. It was aimed at quenching the Omani Sultan’s thirst for revenge, whilst not provoking an escalation in the region that would require further British involvement.

Sounds complicated, doesn’t it?  Add to that the proxy force’s own agenda, and it’s a political nightmare. Running a proxy war not to hurt the enemy but to make your ally think you are, requires a little tact and a lot of brains, to say the least.