Oman early 70's - The Secret War
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    Photographs of Dhofar in Southern Oman taken during the "secret war" period in the early 70's
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Three Wise Men
These were the elders of a small village in the Jebel - An appropriate title since this part of the world is steeped in Mythology and history
( Frankincense trees still grow here, the Queen of Sheba was seemingly a former resident and Sinbad the Sailor lived up the coast.)

©Copyright - Niall Cotton - all rights reserved 2016
Local Firquat militia under a "tafudel" tree - I enjoyed sitting with these guys chatting about life - the guy in the foreground asked me jf it was true that people in "Baritani" sent their elders into old people's homes when they were too old to be "useful."- I had to admit that he was right  - much to the astonishment of his colleagues.
©Copyright - Niall Cotton - all rights reserved 2016
Dhofari youth - the kid in front is holding a toy pistol  - they are fans of American cowboy films.  The "Hearts and Minds" team would visit locations on the Jebel  and set up a projector powered by a small generator and project old Audie Murphy Westerns  on to a white sheet. In between reels, a short film would be shown featuring HM Sultan Qaboos and showing achievements in his efforts to create the Sultanate of Oman.
The lad at the back is holding a real  gun and a member of the local Firquat.
I will never forget his name - Mohammad Ali.

©Copyright - Niall Cotton - all rights reserved 2015
Egyptian teacher and pupils in a temporary school on the Jebel. As soon as a village was secured, The Civil Aid Department (CAD) would implement the Sultan's promises of drilling and repairing wells, and erecting tents as schools and mosques. The also set up a regular flying doctor service to provide a healthcare service for the village and surrounding area.
A very rare photograph of an Omani Girl.  She is the daughter of the Naib Wali (Sheikh) of a small village on the PDRY border. He was a really switched on nice guy and we met a number of times to chat - she would sit about and listen in. One day he asked if I would like to take her picture.
I was a bit of a purist in the 1970's - one of my influences to be a photographer was Henri Cartier-Bresson who would always compose in camera and never crop. His images were often gritty and highly contrast B&W. But I felt this one needed to be in colour.


©Copyright - Niall Cotton - all rights reserved 2015
Baluchistani members of the Frontier Force
©Copyright - Niall Cotton - all rights reserved 2015
90 year old re-building his house after the bad guys have trashed it.
©Copyright - Niall Cotton - all rights reserved 2015
Big dune in the Empty Quarter - a highly recommended  picnic spot 150 miles from any "civilisation"
I had a group of friends who would break the rules and venture out into the Rub al Khali for a weekend. We would sit on top of dunes  with a Mk1 Ghetto Blaster listening to "Dark Side of the Moon" by Pink Floyd and drink copious amounts of wine, eat steak off a barbeque, watch satellites crossing the sky and speak fluent rubbish - very decadent.

©Copyright - Niall Cotton - all rights reserved 2016
 Al Baleed (8th century till 16th century AD)
Once a trading port (now inland) , Artifacts from China (Ming) and other countries indicate its importance as a harbor along the ´Silk Road to the Sea´ from where, in exchange, frankincense was also traded. This site has since been excavated and now a UNESCO world heritage site.
©Copyright - Niall Cotton - all rights reserved 2016

Dhofar in the early 70's
I was fortunate to spend a year in Dhofar, Southern Oman in the early seventies during the "Secret War" period of the country's history.

Until 1970, Muscat and Oman was in the middle ages. The country had only one small hospital . Its infant mortality rate was 75% and life expectancy was around 55 years. There were just three primary schools – which the sultan frequently threatened to close – and no secondary schools. The result of this was that just 5% of the population could read and write. There were no telephones or any other infrastructure, other than a series of ancient water channels. The sultan (Said bin Taimur) banned any object that he considered decadent, which meant that Omanis were prevented from possessing radios, from riding bicycles, from playing football, from wearing sunglasses, shoes or trousers, and from using electric pumps in their wells. Muscat residents had to carry a lantern at night as torches were banned. Any meeting or conversation lasting longer than 15 minutes could also result in imprisonment. Understandingly, many Omanis fled the country. A large number joined the Trucial Oman Scouts based in Al Ain (now UAE) - only to desert after military training and join the rebellion in the South.

Oman did not have any ties or associations with the outside world other than the United Kingdom. It had long established ties with Oman based on a 1798 Treaty of Friendship, and had been a British protectorate since 1891. However the UK was also going through a major period of change. The British had already exited Aden prematurely in 1967 and were committed to removing all their bases and troops “East of Suez” before 1972 - including RAF Salalah, Masira Island and Sharjah.

The British in Yemen were replaced by a Marxist state and became the Peoples Democratic Republic of Yemen (PDRY) - supported and receiving aid from both Russia and China.
By early 68, the Dhofari nationalist insurgency was developing into a Chinese/Soviet backed revolutionary movement - with pan-Arabian ambitions. By the end of 1969, they captured the coastal town of Raysut, and by early the following year they controlled most of the high plains and were within mortaring distance of the RAF base at Salalah.
Once in control of Dhofar, the aim of the “Adoo” (enemy) was to rapidly advance up to Muscat and on to the Straits of Hormuz - thus taking control of the vital narrow waterway  where 90% of the West’s oil passed.

After a relatively bloodless coup in 1970 -  Sultan Said bin Taimur's son Qaboos took over power from his despotic father and brought the country into the 20th century. His first task first was to change the name of the country to The Sultanate of Oman. He also offered an amnesty to the Dhofari rebels and help to rebuild the country - promising to build schools, hospitals, roads and turn Oman into a modern nation.

In total secrecy, the British Government who had assisted Sultan Qaboos in the coup,  dispatched the SAS (with the innocuous name of British Army Training Team - BATT). Other countries also offered support. The Shah of Iran sent in troops to build roads, set up anti- aircraft defences and provide boots on the ground to cut off Adoo supply lines from Yemen. The King of Jordan also offered army engineers and loaned aircraft.
HM Sultan Qaboos applied his training and experience as a British Army officer to build the Omani armed forces.

The BATT were the main frontline forces. Instead of dropping bombs before attacking a village or area - they would drop leaflets showing that the Sultan was fulfilling his promises. Immediately after securing a village and after former "Adoo" pledging allegiance to the new Sultan -  the BATT team would exchange their AK47 for a Belgian FN rifle and train locals as a "Home Guard". At the same time the Civil Aid Department (CAD) would fly in and immediately get to work  installing/repairing wells, erecting tents as temporary schools and mosques. They also  provided healthcare by operating a regular "Flying Doctor" service using SOAF helicopters. The BATT  "Hearts and Minds" team would take photographs of the CAD activity and the locals with their new FN rifle. These images would then be turned into leaflets to be dropped on the next target area.