12 September 1963
Lieutenant Colonel Johnny Cooper, of the Special Air Service, was part of a British covert military operation in North Yemen. The plan was to draw Egyptian forces stationed there into a war of attrition and thereby undermine the prestige and influence of Nasser’s Egypt, which since the Suez crisis of 1956 had become an unwelcome example of an Arab country successfully defying the will of London and Washington. Cooper found himself in charge of what he himself described as ‘a gang of criminals now nine strong who will do anything for money.’
On 12 September 1963, he reported that ‘our mining (of a dirt road outside a town garrisoned by Egyptian troops) has got the Wogs (sic) angry with the tribes south of the Jihannah-Sana’a road.’ He explained, with apparent pride, how the murder of Egyptian soldiers had provoked them into carrying out revenge attacks on nearby tribes, entirely innocent of the British instigated attacks. By 24 September, Cooper was able to boast ‘confirmed now 32 (Egyptians) killed, 18 wounded, 4 vehicles destroyed, one road demolished.’ His liaison officer, Peter de la-Billiere, who 30 years later was to become commander in chief of British forces during the Gulf War, wrote back ‘How’s yourself ? No doubt well and causing chaos as usual. Your last letters were a tonic, especially the accounts of the mining.’1 Within weeks, the number of attacks were increased, so that by 21 November Cooper was reporting 65 Egyptians killed, explaining that ‘the tempo is quickening towards all-out attacks on the Wogs (sic).’2
- Duff Hart-Davis, The War That Never Was: The True Story of the Men Who Fought Britain’s Most Secret Battle, Arrow Books, London, 2012, pp. 82-85.
- Ibid, p. 116.
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