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Exclusive: Dozens of British troops injured in Oman war games

Morning Star investigation prompts calls for Britain to stop cosying up to Gulf tyranny

DOZENS of British troops were injured during a major exercise in Oman earlier this year, a Morning Star investigation has found.

And Britain’s most senior military officer in the repressive Middle Eastern sultanate was also involved in a car crash with a civilian, documents obtained via freedom of information reveal.

Documents obtained by the Star expose the cosy relationship between Britain’s military and the repressive Gulf monarchy.

The joint manoeuvres with Omani forces, dubbed Swift Sword Three, involved more than 5,000 British personnel drawn from all three forces. It was billed by forces chiefs as an opportunity to “reinforce the long-standing and close military relationship between Britain and Oman.”

Sultan Qaboos of Oman was installed on the throne by British soldiers in 1970, with the SAS helping him crush a left-wing revolution. Qaboos remains in power today, making him the longest-serving autocrat in the Middle East.

British troops began arriving in Oman in June for the exercise, which culminated in October and November. In that time 39 British service personnel suffered from injuries, leaving three of them physically or mentally incapacitated. Aeromedical evacuation to Britain was required in three cases and at least 16 personnel were hospitalised.

Injuries were caused by hot weather, trips, falls and handling heavy objects. Marines and logistics corps personnel were among the worst affected.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) refused to give a full breakdown of all injuries, including the most serious, claiming it would breach data protection rules.

However, in one embarrassing case, the top British officer in Oman, believed to be a brigadier general, was involved in a car crash in which a local civilian was injured.

The crash happened when the general was conducting “battlefield circulation.” He was in a convoy of two Toyota 4x4s when a box came loose in the rear vehicle and “blew out with the wind.”

As the Toyota made U-turns to collect the box, a civilian vehicle drove over a hill, allegedly on the wrong side of the road, and “skidded before impacting the Toyota at speed.”

Another passing motorist rushed the civilian to Mahut hospital with “suspected broken ribs.” Local police later reported the man’s injuries as “not serious” and said the British troops were “not at fault.”

In a second car accident, an RAF driver lost control of a Toyota Hilux and flipped the vehicle onto its side. The driver and passenger were taken to the local hospital in Mahut.

Responding to our investigation, Forces Watch media organiser Joe Glenton said: “While the MoD [Ministry of Defence] will doubtless attempt to write these injuries off as part and parcel of military training, 39 personnel is a very high figure.

“These figures are also starkly at odds with the MoD’s own branding of the exercise as some kind of Boy’s Own adventure. They tell a story of chaos, not precision, with even senior officers involved in serious incidents.”

Mr Glenton, an ex-soldier, called on the MoD to reveal how many of the injured were under the age of 18.

“While minors cannot deploy to war, they can take part in high-intensity and, evidently, very dangerous overseas exercises like Swift Sword,” he said.

An MoD spokesman told the Star: ““Saif Sareea 3 was our largest military exercise for 17 years, putting our world-class personnel to the test in challenging desert conditions.  Those injured during the exercise represent less than 1% of our total deployment, and most of these injuries were minor.”

The Royal Navy has recently opened a new base at the deep-water Omani port of Duqm that will allow its Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers to berth in a geostrategic location near the Strait of Hormuz. The British Army is also establishing a “regional land training hub” in Oman.

The presence of British forces in Oman has caused concern among Omanis opposed to its autocracy. Khalfan al-Badwawi, an Arab Spring organiser, said British troops were only welcomed in Oman by the country’s sultan, whom he dubbed a colonial agent and a tyrant.

“There is no independent political activity by the Omani people,” he explained, speaking to the Star from exile in London. “There is no safe space to speak unless you are praising the British-backed regime.

“If you start to question this in Oman, you will be kidnapped and tortured,” he said.

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