Ogaden War
Overview
 
The Ogaden War was a conventional conflict between Somalia
Somalia
Somalia , officially the Somali Republic and formerly known as the Somali Democratic Republic under Socialist rule, is a country located in the Horn of Africa. Since the outbreak of the Somali Civil War in 1991 there has been no central government control over most of the country's territory...

 and Ethiopia
Ethiopia
Ethiopia , officially known as the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, is a country located in the Horn of Africa. It is the second-most populous nation in Africa, with over 82 million inhabitants, and the tenth-largest by area, occupying 1,100,000 km2...

 in 1977 and 1978 over the Ogaden
Ogaden
Ogaden is the name of a territory comprising the southeastern portion of the Somali Regional State in Ethiopia. The inhabitants are predominantly ethnic Somali and Muslim. The title "Somali Galbeed", which means "Western Somalia," is often preferred by Somali irredentists.The region, which is...

 region of Ethiopia. In a notable illustration of the nature of Cold War
Cold War
The Cold War was the continuing state from roughly 1946 to 1991 of political conflict, military tension, proxy wars, and economic competition between the Communist World—primarily the Soviet Union and its satellite states and allies—and the powers of the Western world, primarily the United States...

 alliances, the Soviet Union
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

 switched from supplying aid to Somalia to supporting Ethiopia, which had previously been backed by the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

, prompting the U.S. to start supporting Somalia. The war ended when Somali forces retreated back across the border and a truce was declared.
During the Scramble for Africa
Scramble for Africa
The Scramble for Africa, also known as the Race for Africa or Partition of Africa was a process of invasion, occupation, colonization and annexation of African territory by European powers during the New Imperialism period, between 1881 and World War I in 1914...

, the lands inhabited by the Somali people
Somali people
Somalis are an ethnic group located in the Horn of Africa, also known as the Somali Peninsula. The overwhelming majority of Somalis speak the Somali language, which is part of the Cushitic branch of the Afro-Asiatic language family...

 were divided between the relevant powers.
Encyclopedia
The Ogaden War was a conventional conflict between Somalia
Somalia
Somalia , officially the Somali Republic and formerly known as the Somali Democratic Republic under Socialist rule, is a country located in the Horn of Africa. Since the outbreak of the Somali Civil War in 1991 there has been no central government control over most of the country's territory...

 and Ethiopia
Ethiopia
Ethiopia , officially known as the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, is a country located in the Horn of Africa. It is the second-most populous nation in Africa, with over 82 million inhabitants, and the tenth-largest by area, occupying 1,100,000 km2...

 in 1977 and 1978 over the Ogaden
Ogaden
Ogaden is the name of a territory comprising the southeastern portion of the Somali Regional State in Ethiopia. The inhabitants are predominantly ethnic Somali and Muslim. The title "Somali Galbeed", which means "Western Somalia," is often preferred by Somali irredentists.The region, which is...

 region of Ethiopia. In a notable illustration of the nature of Cold War
Cold War
The Cold War was the continuing state from roughly 1946 to 1991 of political conflict, military tension, proxy wars, and economic competition between the Communist World—primarily the Soviet Union and its satellite states and allies—and the powers of the Western world, primarily the United States...

 alliances, the Soviet Union
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

 switched from supplying aid to Somalia to supporting Ethiopia, which had previously been backed by the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

, prompting the U.S. to start supporting Somalia. The war ended when Somali forces retreated back across the border and a truce was declared.

Origins of the war

During the Scramble for Africa
Scramble for Africa
The Scramble for Africa, also known as the Race for Africa or Partition of Africa was a process of invasion, occupation, colonization and annexation of African territory by European powers during the New Imperialism period, between 1881 and World War I in 1914...

, the lands inhabited by the Somali people
Somali people
Somalis are an ethnic group located in the Horn of Africa, also known as the Somali Peninsula. The overwhelming majority of Somalis speak the Somali language, which is part of the Cushitic branch of the Afro-Asiatic language family...

 were divided between the relevant powers. To Italy went Southern Somalia, to Britain Northern Somalia along the Gulf of Aden
Gulf of Aden
The Gulf of Aden is located in the Arabian Sea between Yemen, on the south coast of the Arabian Peninsula, and Somalia in the Horn of Africa. In the northwest, it connects with the Red Sea through the Bab-el-Mandeb strait, which is about 20 miles wide....

, to France the hinterlands of Tajoura, while Ethiopia, which had gained the respect of the European powers with its decisive victory at Adwa, received the Ogaden
Ogaden
Ogaden is the name of a territory comprising the southeastern portion of the Somali Regional State in Ethiopia. The inhabitants are predominantly ethnic Somali and Muslim. The title "Somali Galbeed", which means "Western Somalia," is often preferred by Somali irredentists.The region, which is...

 region by treaty. In 1960 Britain gave independence to its colony which joined with southern Somalia to create the new state of Somalia. 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. However, throughout the 1970s, Somalia was the recipient of large amounts of Soviet military aid. The SNA had three times the tank force of Ethiopia, and had a larger air force.

In addition to previous Soviet funding and arms support to Somalia, Egypt sent millions of dollars in arms to Somalia, established military training and sent experts to Somalia in support of Egypt's longstanding policy of securing the Nile River flow by destabilising Ethiopia.

Even as Somalia gained military strength, Ethiopia grew weaker. In September 1974, Emperor Haile Selassie had been overthrown by the Derg
Derg
The Derg or Dergue was a Communist military junta that came to power in Ethiopia following the ousting of Haile Selassie I. Derg, which means "committee" or "council" in Ge'ez, is the short name of the Coordinating Committee of the Armed Forces, Police, and Territorial Army, a committee of...

 (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 favoured Somalia.

One of the separatist groups seeking to take advantage of the chaos was the pro-Somalia Western Somali Liberation Front
Western Somali Liberation Front
The Western Somali Liberation Front was a separatist rebel group fighting in eastern Ethiopia to create an independent state. It played a major role in the Ogaden War of 1977-78 assisting the invading Somali Army...

 (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
Mengistu Haile Mariam
Mengistu Haile Mariam is a politician who was formerly the most prominent officer of the Derg, the Communist military junta that governed Ethiopia from 1974 to 1987, and the President of the People's Democratic Republic of Ethiopia from 1987 to 1991...

 as head of state on 11 February 1977. However, 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 centre 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
Siad Barre
Mohamed Siad Barre was the military dictator and President of the Somali Democratic Republic from 1969 to 1991. During his rule, he styled himself as Jaalle Siyaad ....

 strongly denied this, saying SNA "volunteers" were being allowed to help the WSLF.

Course of the war

Somalia committed to invade the Ogaden at 0300 13 July 1977 (5 Hamle, 1969
Ethiopian calendar
The Ethiopian calendar , also called the Ge'ez calendar, is the principal calendar used in Ethiopia and also serves as the liturgical calendar for Christians in Eritrea belonging to the Eritrean Orthodox Church, Eastern Catholic Church and Lutheran Evangelical Church of Eritrea...

), according to Ethiopian documents (some other sources state 23 July). According to Ethiopian sources, the invaders numbered 70,000 troops, 40 fighter planes, 250 tanks, 350 armoured personnel carrier
Armoured personnel carrier
An armoured personnel carrier is an armoured fighting vehicle designed to transport infantry to the battlefield.APCs are usually armed with only a machine gun although variants carry recoilless rifles, anti-tank guided missiles , or mortars...

s, 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
Gode
Gode is a city in the Ethiopian part of the Ogaden. Located in the Gode Zone of the Somali Region, the city has a latitude and longitude of...

, on the Shabelle River. The attacking forces did suffer some early setbacks; Ethiopian defenders at Dire Dawa
Dire Dawa
Dire Dawa is one of two chartered cities in Ethiopia . This chartered city is divided administratively into two woredas, the city proper and the non-urban woreda of Gurgura....

 and Jijiga
Jijiga
Jijiga is a city in eastern Ethiopia and the capital of the Somali Region of that country. Located in the Jijiga Zone approximately 80 km east of Harar and 60 km west of the border with Somalia, this city has a latitude and longitude of with an elevation of 1,609 meters above sea...

 inflicted heavy casualties on assaulting forces. The Ethiopian Air Force
Ethiopian Air Force
The Ethiopian Air Force is the air arm of the Ethiopian National Defense Forces and is tasked with protecting the air space, providing support to the ground forces as well as assisting during national emergencies.- Early years :...

 (EAF) also began to establish air superiority using its Northrop F-5s, despite being initially outnumbered by Somali MiG-21s
Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21
The Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 is a supersonic jet fighter aircraft, designed by the Mikoyan-Gurevich Design Bureau in the Soviet Union. It was popularly nicknamed "balalaika", from the aircraft's planform-view resemblance to the Russian stringed musical instrument or ołówek by Polish pilots due to...

. However, Somalia was easily overpowering Ethiopian military hardware and technology capability. Army
Army
An army An army An army (from Latin arma "arms, weapons" via Old French armée, "armed" (feminine), in the broadest sense, is the land-based military of a nation or state. It may also include other branches of the military such as the air force via means of aviation corps...

-general
General
A general officer is an officer of high military rank, usually in the army, and in some nations, the air force. The term is widely used by many nations of the world, and when a country uses a different term, there is an equivalent title given....

 Vasily Petrov
Vasily Petrov
Vasily Ivanovich Petrov , in Stavropol Krai. He completed high school in 1935 and studied for two years at a teacher training institute until 1937. Petrov joined the army in 1939 and completed the lieutenant's course in 1941....

 of the Soviet Armed Forces
Soviet Armed Forces
The Soviet Armed Forces, also called the Armed Forces of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and Armed Forces of the Soviet Union refers to the armed forces of the Russian SFSR , and Soviet Union from their beginnings in the...

 had to report back to Moscow
Moscow
Moscow is the capital, the most populous city, and the most populous federal subject of Russia. The city is a major political, economic, cultural, scientific, religious, financial, educational, and transportation centre of Russia and the continent...

 the "sorry state" of the Ethiopian army. The 3rd and 4th Ethiopian Infantry Divisions that suffered the brunt of the Somali invasion had practically ceased to exist.

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 (second in magnitude only to the October 1973 gigantic resupplying of Syrian forces during the Yom Kippur War
Yom Kippur War
The Yom Kippur War, Ramadan War or October War , also known as the 1973 Arab-Israeli War and the Fourth Arab-Israeli War, was fought from October 6 to 25, 1973, between Israel and a coalition of Arab states led by Egypt and Syria...

) and advisors flooded into the country along with around 15,000 Cuba
Cuba
The Republic of Cuba is an island nation in the Caribbean. The nation of Cuba consists of the main island of Cuba, the Isla de la Juventud, and several archipelagos. Havana is the largest city in Cuba and the country's capital. Santiago de Cuba is the second largest city...

n combat troops. Other communist countries offered assistance: the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen
People's Democratic Republic of Yemen
The People's Democratic Republic of Yemen — also referred to as South Yemen, Democratic Yemen or Yemen — was a socialist republic in the present-day southern and eastern Provinces of Yemen...

 offered military assistance and North Korea
North Korea
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea , , is a country in East Asia, occupying the northern half of the Korean Peninsula. Its capital and largest city is Pyongyang. The Korean Demilitarized Zone serves as the buffer zone between North Korea and South 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 USSR and expelled all Soviet citizens from the country.

Not all communist states sided with Ethiopia. Because of the Sino-Soviet rivalry
Sino-Soviet split
In political science, the term Sino–Soviet split denotes the worsening of political and ideologic relations between the People's Republic of China and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics during the Cold War...

, China
People's Republic of China
China , officially the People's Republic of China , is the most populous country in the world, with over 1.3 billion citizens. Located in East Asia, the country covers approximately 9.6 million square kilometres...

 supported Somalia diplomatically and with token military aid. Romania
Romania
Romania is a country located at the crossroads of Central and Southeastern Europe, on the Lower Danube, within and outside the Carpathian arch, bordering on the Black Sea...

 under Nicolae Ceauşescu
Nicolae Ceausescu
Nicolae Ceaușescu was a Romanian Communist politician. He was General Secretary of the Romanian Communist Party from 1965 to 1989, and as such was the country's second and last Communist leader...

 had a habit of breaking with Soviet policies and maintained good diplomatic relations with Siad Barre.

By 17 August elements of the Somali army had reached the outskirts of the strategic city of Dire Dawa
Dire Dawa
Dire Dawa is one of two chartered cities in Ethiopia . This chartered city is divided administratively into two woredas, the city proper and the non-urban woreda of Gurgura....

. Not only was the country's second largest military airbase located here, as well as Ethiopia's crossroads into the Ogaden, but Ethiopia's rail lifeline to the Red Sea ran through this city, and if the Somalis held Dire Dawa, Ethiopia would be unable to export its crops or bring in equipment needed to continue the fight. Gebre Tareke estimates the Somalis advanced with two motorized brigades, one tank battalion and one BM battery upon the city; against them were the Ethiopian Second Militia Division, the 201 Nebelbal battalion, 781 battalion of the 78th Brigade, the 4th Mechanized Company, and a tank platoon possessing two tanks. The fighting was vicious as both sides knew what the stakes were, but after two days, despite that the Somalis had gained possession of the airport at one point, the Ethiopians had repulsed the assault, forcing the Somalis to withdraw. Henceforth, Dire Dawa was never at risk of attack.

The greatest single victory of the SNA-WSLF was a second assault on Jijiga in mid-September (the Battle of Jijiga), 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
Harar
Harar is an eastern city in Ethiopia, and the capital of the modern Harari ethno-political division of Ethiopia...

. 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
Sidamo Province
Sidamo was a province in the southern part of Ethiopia, with its capital city at Irgalem, and after 1978 at Awasa. It was named after an ethnic group native to Ethiopia, called the Sidamo, or more particularly, Sidama, who are located in the south-central part of that country...

. However, the Somalis were unable to press their advantage because of the high attrition on 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 and train a giant militia force 100,000 strong 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
Warsaw Pact
The Warsaw Treaty Organization of Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance , or more commonly referred to as the Warsaw Pact, was a mutual defense treaty subscribed to by eight communist states in Eastern Europe...

 bloc weaponry took place.

From October 1977 until January 1978, the SNA-WSLF forces attempted to capture Harar, where 40,000 Ethiopians had regrouped and re-armed with Soviet-supplied artillery
Artillery
Originally applied to any group of infantry primarily armed with projectile weapons, artillery has over time become limited in meaning to refer only to those engines of war that operate by projection of munitions far beyond the range of effect of personal weapons...

 and armor
Armoured fighting vehicle
An armoured fighting vehicle is a combat vehicle, protected by strong armour and armed with weapons. AFVs can be wheeled or tracked....

; backed by 1500 Soviet "advisors" and 11,000 Cuban soldiers, they engaged the attackers in vicious fighting. Though the Somali forces reached the city outskirts by November, they were too exhausted to take the city and eventually had to withdraw to await the Ethiopian counterattack.

The expected Ethiopian-Cuban attack occurred in early February; however, it was accompanied by a second attack that the Somalis did not expect. 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-capture 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, although Rene LaFort claims that the Somalis, having foreseen the inevitable, had already withdrawn its heavy weapons. The last significant Somali unit left Ethiopia on 15 March 1978, marking the end of the war.

Effects of the war

Following the withdrawal 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. However 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, three-eighths 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
Greater Somalia
Greater Somalia refers to those regions in the Horn of Africa in which ethnic Somalis are and have historically represented the predominant population. Greater Somalia encompasses Somalia, Djibouti, the Ogaden of Ethiopia and the North Eastern Province of Kenya. Pan-Somalism refers to the vision...

. The failure of the war aggravated discontent with the Barre regime; the first organized opposition group, the Somali Salvation Democratic Front
Somali Salvation Democratic Front
Somali Salvation Democratic Front , initially known as the Democratic Front for Salvation of Somalia was a political and paramilitary umbrella organization in Somalia. Founded in 1978 by several army officers, it was the first of several opposition groups dedicated to ousting the authoritarian...

(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, and 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.

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