Ethiopia Military

Ethiopia Military header image 2

Ethio-Somalia War

2,287 Comments · Wars

Origins of the war: While the cause of the conflict was the desire of the Somali government of Siad Barre to incorporate the Somali-inhabited Ogaden region of Ethiopia into a Greater Somalia, it is unlikely Barre would have ordered the invasion if circumstances had not turned in his favor.

Ethiopia had historically dominated the region. By the beginning of the war, the Somali National Army (SNA) was only 35,000-men strong and was vastly outnumbered by the Ethiopian forces.

Nevertheless, throughout the 1970s, Somalia was the recipient of large amounts of Soviet military aid. The SNA had three times the tank force of Ethiopia, as well as a larger air force.

Even as Somalia gained military strength, Ethiopia grew weaker. In September 1974, Emperor Haile Selassie had been overthrown by the Derg (the military council), marking a period of turmoil.

The Derg quickly fell into internal conflict to determine who would have primacy. Meanwhile, various anti-Derg as well as separatist movements began throughout the country. The regional balance of power now favored Somalia.

One of the separatist groups seeking to take advantage of the chaos was the pro-Somalia Western Somali Liberation Front (WSLF) operating in the Somali-inhabited Ogaden area, which by late 1975 had struck numerous government outposts. From 1976 to 1977, Somalia supplied arms and other aid to the WSLF.

A sign that order had been restored among the Derg was the announcement of Mengistu Haile Mariam as head of state on 11 February 1977.

Nevertheless, the country remained in chaos as the military attempted to suppress its civilian opponents.

Despite the violence, the Soviet Union, which had been closely observing developments, came to believe that Ethiopia was developing into a genuine Marxist-Leninist state and that it was in Soviet interests to aid the new regime.

They thus secretly approached Mengistu with offers of aid that he accepted. Ethiopia closed the U.S. military mission and the communications center in April 1977.

In June 1977, Mengistu accused Somalia of infiltrating SNA soldiers into the Somali area to fight alongside the WSLF.

Despite considerable evidence to the contrary, Barre insisted that no such thing was occurring, but that SNA “volunteers” were being allowed to help the WSLF.

Somalia decided to make a decisive move and invaded the Ogaden at 13 July 1977 (5 Hamle, 1969), according to Ethiopian documents (some other sources state 23 July).

According to Ethiopian sources, they numbered 70,000 troops, 40 fighter planes, 250 tanks, 350 APCs, and 600 artillery, which would have meant practically the whole Somalian Army.

By the end of the month 60% of the Ogaden had been taken by the SNA-WSLF force, including Gode, on the Shabelle River.

The attacking forces did suffer some early setbacks; Ethiopian defenders at Dire Dawa and Jijiga inflicted heavy casualties on assaulting forces.

The Ethiopian Air Force (EAF) also began to establish air superiority using its Northrop F-5s, despite being initially outnumbered by Somali MiG-21s.

The USSR, finding itself supplying both sides of a war, attempted to mediate a ceasefire. When their efforts failed, the Soviets abandoned Somalia.

All aid to Siad Barre’s regime was halted, while arms shipments to Ethiopia were increased.

Soviet military aid, only second in magnitude to the October 1973 gigantic resupplying of Syrian forces during the Yom Kippur war, plus Soviet advisors flooded into the country along with around 15,000 Cuban combat troops.

Other Communist countries offered assistance: the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen offered military assistance and North Korea helped train a “People’s Militia”; East Germany likewise offered training, engineering and support troops.

As the scale of Communist assistance became clear in November 1977, Somalia broke diplomatic relations with the U.S.S.R. and expelled all Soviet citizens from the country.

Not all communist states sided with Ethiopia. Due to the Sino-Soviet rivalry, China supported Somalia diplomatically as well as with token military aid.

Romania under Nicolae Ceau?escu had a habit of breaking with Soviet policies and maintained good diplomatic relations with Siad Barre.

The greatest single victory of the SNA-WSLF was a second assault on Jijiga in mid-September, in which the demoralized Ethiopian troops withdrew from the town.

The local defenders were no match for the assaulting Somalis and the Ethiopian military was forced to withdraw past the strategic strongpoint of the Marda Pass, halfway between Jijiga and Harar.

By September Ethiopia was forced to admit that it controlled only about 10% of the Ogaden and that the Ethiopian defenders had been pushed back into the non-Somali areas of Harerge, Bale, and Sidamo.

Nevertheless, the Somalis were unable to press their advantage because of the high level of attrition among its tank battalions, constant Ethiopian air attacks on their supply lines, and the onset of the rainy season, which made the dirt roads unusable.

During that time, the Ethiopian government managed to raise a giant militia force in its 100,000s and integrated it into the regular fighting force.

Also, since the Ethiopian army was a client of U.S weapons, hasty acclimatization to the new Warsaw-pact bloc weaponry took place.

From October 1977 until January 1978, the SNA-WSLF forces attempted to capture Harar, where 40,000 Ethiopians backed by Soviet-supplied artillery and armor had regrouped with 1500 Soviet advisors and 11,000 Cuban soldiers.

Though it reached the city outskirts by November, the Somali force was too exhausted to take the city and was eventually forced to retreat outside and await an Ethiopian counterattack.

The expected Ethiopian-Cuban attack occurred in early February. Nevertheless, it was accompanied by a second attack that the Somalis were not expecting.

A column of Ethiopian and Cuban troops crossed northeast into the highlands between Jijiga and the border with Somalia, bypassing the SNA-WSLF force defending the Marda Pass.

The attackers were thus able to assault from two directions in a “pincer” action, allowing the re-capturing of Jijiga in only two days while killing 3,000 defenders.

The Somali defense collapsed and every major Ethiopian town was recaptured in the following weeks.

Recognizing that his position was untenable, Siad Barre ordered the SNA to retreat back into Somalia on 9 March 1978. The last significant Somali unit left Ethiopia on 15 March 1978, marking the end of the war.

Effects of the war
Following the removal of the SNA, the WSLF continued their insurgency. By May 1980, the rebels, with the assistance of a small number of SNA soldiers who continued to help the guerilla war, controlled a substantial region of the Ogaden.

Nevertheless by 1981 the insurgents were reduced to sporadic hit-and-run attacks and were finally defeated.

The Ogaden War weakened the Somali military. Almost one-third of the regular SNA soldiers, one and a half-quarters of the armored units and half of the Somali Air Force (SAF) were lost.

The weakness of the Barre regime led it to effectively abandon the dream of a unified Greater Somalia.

The failure of the war aggravated discontent with the Barre regime; the first organized opposition group, the Somali Salvation Democratic Front (SSDF), was formed by army officers in 1979.

The United States adopted Somalia as a Cold War client state from the late 1970s to 1988 in exchange for use of Somali bases, as well as a way to exert influence upon the region.

A second armed clash in 1988 was resolved when the two countries agreed to withdraw their militaries from the border.

Ogaden War
Somalia invaded the Ogaden region and starting the Ogaden War. Fighting erupted as Somalia attempted a temporary shift in the regional balance of power in their favour by occupying the Ogaden region.

The Soviet Union switched from supplying Somalia to supporting Ethiopia, which had previously been backed by the United States.

The war ended when Somali forces retreated back across the border and a ceasefire was declared.

Ethiopia was able to defeat the Somolian forces with the aid of the USSR and South Yemen. This was the first conflict in which the Mi-24 was used.

Historical conditions
A broader perspective illustrates many incidents of Ethiopian-Somali conflict. Boundary clashes over the Ogaden region date to the 1948 settlement when the land was granted to Ethiopia.

Somali dissatisfaction with this decision has led to repeated attempts to invade Ethiopia with the hopes of taking control of the Ogaden to create a Greater Somalia.

This plan would have reunited the Somali people of the Ethiopian-controlled Ogaden with those living in the Republic of Somalia. Shy of that, ethnic and political tensions have caused cross-border clashes over the years.

• 1960-1964 Border Dispute
• 1977-1978 Ogaden War
• 1982 August Border Clash
• 1998-2000 Cross-border warfare during the chaotic warlord-led era

Conflicts between Ethiopia and Somalia are not limited to the 20th-21st Centuries. Wars between Somalia, or its forerunner Islamic states, and Ethiopia, stretch back to the 16th century.

Ahmad ibn Ibrihim al-Ghazi was a 16th century Islamic leader of Adal popular in Somali culture for his jihad against the Ethiopians during the rise of the Adal Sultanate (a multi-ethnic former vassal kingdom of Ethiopia).

Thus, painful living history, oral and cultural traditions, long-standing ethnic divisions and sectarian differences lay between the two nations and fuel the conflict.

Keywords: Siad Barre, Ogaden region, Somali National Army, Soviet military aid, Derg, Mengistu, Gode, Shabelle River, Dire Dawa, Jijiga, Ethiopian Air Force, Siad Barre, Harerge, Bale, Sidamo, Harar, Ogaden War,


2,287 Comments so far ↓

Leave a Comment