How did a boy from Kildare end up shooting a Sultan and his bodyguards in an Arabian palace?

Above, an Irishman (the author) in Dhofar.

The answer shows that, like a wildfire breaking out and dying down, The Wild Geese spirit lives, to surface now and again not to die but to smoulder until the next adventure beckons. (Remember ‘Mad’ Mike Hoare, Africa’s most famous mercenary?)

Dhofar War (1963 – 1976). 1970. While America was bleeding its way through the Vietnam War and its secret, illegal Cambodia Incursion, Oman and Britain were fighting and losing their own secret conflict against Russian and Chinese-backed, armed and trained Marxist revolutionaries on the Arabian Peninsula and the Persian Gulf. At stake, should the then Cold War turn hot, was the free flow of 43 percent of the West’s crude oil through Oman’s Straits of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf.

Photo right, Dhofar-Yemen border -- mountain warfare.

By 1970, only the outgunned and outnumbered Sultan’s Armed Forces, led by 100 British seconded and contract (euphemism for mercenary) officers and manned by Omanis and Baluch mercenaries, stood between the revolutionaries and victory.

Contract officers were ex-British army recruited and interviewed by the UK Ministry of Defence (MOD). Among them was the usual contingent of Irishmen looking for adventure. One such, from County Wexford, would be awarded the two highest combat honours and be killed in action on Christmas Day 1975.

But for now in that July 1970, only a change of leadership could harness the political, developmental and military forces necessary to prevent what could otherwise be a disaster for both Oman and the West. In the absence of a democratic ballot box to remove the obscurantist Sultan Said bin Taimur, there was just one alternative. The bullet.

Photo left, enemy weapons captured in ambush.

Ordered to seize or kill the Sultan, the Irish assault team commander, instead of blasting his way through the palace door as planned, knocked politely. Butt-stroking the guard who opened the door, the commander led the assault team to confront and disarm the surprised 15-man contingent behind.

Though entry had been gained without a shot being fired, the subsequent gun battle with the brave despot claimed one dead and five wounded before he abdicated.

Now, nemesis pounced. The Irish assault team commander, breaking his promise to serve the Sultan diligently and faithfully as a contract officer, was shot in the leg by a negligent discharge from a disarmed bodyguard’s pistol.

Oman’s coup d’état on 23 July 1970 was the only military coup organised by the British army -- executed by an Irishman -- in living memory. (Below, a war artist painting: heli casevac, that is, casualty evacuation from a war zone.)

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Tags: Asia, mercenaries, mideast, the wild geese, war

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