The Anglo-Omani Society was pleased to host the Sultan’s Armed Forces (SAF) Association for a talk entitled ‘East of Suez: The UK’s Defence Hub at Duqm’. Speaking to Britain’s military interests in Duqm, Colonel (Retired) David Bennett outlined the importance the central-eastern port area holds to Britain’s policy in the Middle East.
Duqm is a point of particular historical significance for Britain’s relationship with Oman and the wider Gulf. In 1954, Duqm was the landing point for a geological team and expeditionary force that made its way up to Fahud in order to establish an oil well in the promising anticline. Outlining British policy generally Colonel David Bennet framed Britain’s policy in Oman under the framework of ‘East of Suez’, the policy associated with Britain’s post-Suez withdrawal from the Arabian Gulf, particularly Aden.
Colonel Bennet spoke about Britain’s current foreign policy approach outlined in the integrated review of security, defence, development and foreign policy entitled ‘Global Britain in a Competitive Age’. This includes taking into account the regional dynamics associated with Iran, Yemen, Saudi Arabia as well as the global powers China, Russia, and the United States.
Central to talk was the way in which the Anglo-Omani relationship helped facilitate Britain’s presence in Duqm. Noting the long-standing and deep relationship the two countries hold, Colonel Bennet detailed the practical concerns associated with British interest in Duqm. Beginning with the Memorandum of Understanding signed on 31 August, 2017, Britain’s interest in Duqm required cooperation with the Special Economic Zone Authority Duqm (SEZAD), the Port of Duqm, the Oman Drydock Company, Duqm’s Airport of Disembarkation, and Tawoos LLC at Renaissance Village.
One area of cooperation highlighted by Colonel Bennet was plans for a regional land training hub for joint military training exercises. Having established the ideal terrain for a training hub—sparse yet varied in elevation and geography—Colonel Bennet recounted the efforts in finding an ideal area close to Duqm. This required careful consultation with the Ministry of Oil & Gas given the complex of concession areas in the surrounding areas.
Having settled on an area South West of Duqm in Ras Madrakah, Britain and Oman were able to inaugurate military cooperation in Duqm with the Saif Sareea 3 exercise and the official opening of the Joint Logistic Support Base. In 2019, a joint Defence Agreement signed in February, along with the joint military exercise Exercise Khanjar, capped the years of military and diplomatic cooperation in Duqm.
The talk concluded with a look at the future plans for the Defence Hub at Duqm, and more broadly the importance of the Anglo-Omani relationship to the future of foreign policy in the region.