Dhofar and the Battle of Mirbat

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A special note is made here about the little-known war in the Oman, which lasted from 1968 to 1975. The British Government were requested to provide troops to support the Sultan of Oman in his endeavour to prevent Marxist groups in the province of Dhofar from overthrowing him. Elements of The 22nd Special Air Service Regiment were deployed to the area in 1972. At dawn on 19th July, a large rebel force, of about 250 strong, attacked the Port of Mirbat. When the battle started Corporal Labalaba and Trooper Takavesi, both members of a nine-man Special Air Service Civil Action Team, went to man a 25-pounder gun just outside the walls of the fort, North-West of the town. Gunner Walid Khalfan of the Oman Artillery was already there. It immediately became clear that the main enemy thrust was being directed against the fort, and in particular against the gun, which was firing at point blank range over open sights. Before long, the entire crew were wounded. Captain M J A Kealy, of the 1st Battalion The Queen’s Regiment, the commander of the Special Air Service detachment, and Trooper Tobin, who was a trained Medical Orderly, then ran under fire from the main Special Air Service position to help save the gun.

The rebels continued to attack with great ferocity and made repeated attempts to take the gun, often from within grenade throwing range and despite the supporting fire from the other five Special Air Service soldiers. The action lasted nearly four hours before a relief force and an accompanying air strike drove off the enemy. During this action Corporal Labalaba was killed, Trooper Tobin fatally injured and Trooper Takavesi and Gunner Walid Khalfan both seriously wounded.

The official report records that the fate of Mirbat and of its occupants during the battle depended wholly on the resolve of the Civil Military Team. But for the action of these nine men and particularly the leadership of Captain Kealy the town would have undoubtedly fallen. Captain Kealy was awarded the DSO for his outstanding bravery. He tragically died on the Brecon Beacons on a subsequent posting to 22 SAS.