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The Battle of Mirbat

After the success of Operation Jaguar, the Adoo leaders decided that they would have to make a decisive strike against the Sultans forces to regain the upper hand. It was deiced that the Adoo would attack the small coastal town of Mirbat and kill all the families of firqat they could find. At dawn on 19th July 1972, a large rebel force of some 250 Adoo rebels attacked the nine-man garrison at the Port of Mirbat in the Dhofar province of southern Oman.

Mirbat BATT HouseAt around 05.00 hours the picket at the top of Jebel Ali, a small hill some 1,000 metres to the north of Mirbat and halfway towards the Jebel Massive, was being manned by a section of Dhofar Gendarmerie (DG). Jebel Ali provided a co-ordinating feature that protected the town and surrounding coastal area. The Adoos attacked the post, killing the DG. The exchange of fire was heard in the BATT House in Dhofar and the commander, Captain Mike Kealy, and his men observed the fire coming from Jebel Ali and the waves of men advancing towards Wali's Fort.

Captain Kealy ordered the 81mm mortar to open fire in support of Jebel Ali while the rest of the SAS took up their positions behind the sand-bagged emplacements and awaited targets. As a safeguard, the signaller was ordered to establish communications with SAS Headquarters at Um al Quarif. The SAS Fijian soldier Sgt. Talaiasi Labalaba left the house and ran the 500 metres to the gun pit by Wali Fort where he manned an old World War II 25-pounder artillery piece. Labalaba was a well known figure in the SAS. He had fought in Borneo and Aden were he had led a undercover anti-terrorist plain cloths team.

At 05.30 there was enough light for Kealy to make out the silhouette of the gun position and fort. Suddenly, a vast amount of small arms fire started pouring into the town and through the mist figures could be seen approaching the perimeter wire from the direction of Jebel Ali. The Adoos were attacking in waves. Both SAS machine gun bunkers opened fire and the 81mm added its punch. In number ten gun-pit by the Fort, the 25-pounder sent shell after shell into the enemy and the battle flowed back and forth, until a message came through from Labalaba that he had been hit on the chin while operating the artillery piece. Kealy suspected he was badly injured and sent his countryman, Takavesi to his aid. The machine guns provided supporting fire from the roof of the BATT House as they watched Takavesi run the gauntlet of tracer bullets and exploding shells, diving headlong into the gun-pit. He found Labalaba firing the big gun alone. He gave no indication that he was injured but indicated the need for help. Takavesi ran to the Fort's door and called for help. He was heard by an Omani gunner (Walid Khamis) and Takavesi grabbed him and both men raced back to the pit. As Takavesi cleared the sandbags the Omani gunner fell forward as a bullet hit him in the stomach.

Sgt. Talaiasi Labalaba

Still wave after wave of rebels charged the fort. Abruptly several rockets slammed into the fort and from the roof of the BATT House, the perimeter wire was seen to have been breached while the main breakthrough seemed to be in front of the fort. The Adoos were advancing on the fort and gun-pit in large numbers. The gun was now levelled at the wire firing point blank at the charging Adoos. Takavesi was hit but continued to fire, Labalaba made a quick grab for a small 60mm mortar but was hit by a bullet in the neck and fell dead.

With communication to the gun-pit lost, Captain Kealy and an SAS medic, Trooper Tobin, moved to give assistance after Kealy had contacted Um al Quarif informing them that air cover was desperately needed and requested a chopper to evacuate Labalaba. Additionally, if the firefight continued at its present rate, further ammunition would be required. 

We'd like to say a big thank you to  The Special Forces Association - UK  for allowing us to reproduce the picture of Sgt. Talaiasi Labalaba. Please take a moment to visit their site.

Fortunately most of those mustered to form a relief force were from the newly arrived G Squadron who were already dressed and equipped for the firing range. It took about five minutes for 22 of them, under the command of Captain Alastair Morrison, to gather an impressive array of weapons. G squadron moved so quick in fact, that two of the new members of the squadron still thought they were on their way to the rangers until the bullets started flying.

Back in Mirbat Captain Kealy and Trooper Tobin worked their way to the gun-pit. As they approached the fighting increased and both ran for cover. Tobin dived into the gun-pit and Kealy into the sandbagged ammunition bay. Inside the pit, Labalaba lay face down and very still, while Takavesi sat propped against the sandbags, SLR still in hand. Tobin quickly set up a drop on the seriously wounded Omani gunner. Takavesi was severely hit in the back, but continued to fight covering the left side of the fort. The firefight was reaching its height and the Adoos made a real effort to overrun the gun. As Kealy concentrated amid the mayhem, he saw an Adoo close by the fort wall. Several grenades were thrown and bounced by the lip of the gun-pit before exploding. An Adoo appeared at the side of the gun-pit but Kealy cut him down.

In the pit, Tobin reached over the inert body of Labalaba and realised there was little he could do. As he made to move away, a bullet hit him in the face and he fell by the side of the Fijian mortally wounded. The gun-pit seemed done for when the Omani Air Force arrived, firing cannon in passes and driving the Adoos into a large wadi outside the perimeter wall, before finally dropping a 500lb bomb where the Adoos had taken refuge.

The G Squadron relief force touched down south of Mirbat in three helicopters and instantly made contact with an Adoo patrol that was covering the rear. The Adoos, consisting of one older soldier and three youths were cornered in a cave and refused to surrender. Several 66mm LAW rockets slammed into the entrance, followed by fire form several GPMGs and the picket was quickly eliminated.

With the jets keeping the Adoos at bay, Kealy had time to crawl forward and examine the gun-pit. He could see that the Omani gunner was still alive and so was Tobin, although his wound looked horrendous. Takavesi was listless against the sandbags, his whole body covered with blood, but he smiled. Then the SAS relief force arrived. Although several of the choppers had been hit, they continued to ferry in more reinforcements and extracted the wounded in return. Trooper Tobin and the Omani gunner were casevaced on the first available flight. Takavesi walked calmly to the chopper without assistance, although a normal man would probably have died from the wounds. Three Adoo prisoners, who had been captured and held in the BATT House, were also sent back for interrogation.

Labala's GraveAlastair Morrison, commanding the relief force, reorganized Mirbat's defenses and with the aid of two Land Rovers started to collect the dead and wounded Adoos. The Adoos had lost 38 dead and they would never recover from the defeat. The defenders of Mirbat should have been highly decorated for their actions on that day, but because the British Government did not want to expose their involvement in Dhofar, the awards were not announced until 3 years after the battle. Kealy was awarded the Distinguished Service Order and two of this men a Military cross apiece. Trooper Tobin was posthumously awarded a Distinguished Conduct medal and Sgt. Labalaba was also posthumously Mentioned in Dispatches. Sadly Major Mike Kealy died of exposure during an SAS exercise on the Brecon Beacons in February  1979. By a cruel twist of fate, it was Johnny Watts his old Dhofar commander who found his body. We have to ask our self's why should such a brave man like Labalaba not be awarded the highest award the British Government can give ?

Other suggested links on the battle of Mirbat

The Special Forces Association - UK
This site has a ROH for Dhofar and has kindly allowed us to reproduce the picture of Sgt. Labalaba

Special Air Service
This SAS site has a very good Mirbat section, thanks Huub.

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