Ogaden War
Part of the Ethiopian Civil War, the Ethiopian–Somali conflict, and the Cold War

Cuban artillerymen prepare to fire at Somali forces in the Ogaden
Date13 July 1977[11] – 23 March 1978[12]
(8 months and 2 days)

Ethiopian victory

Commanders and leaders
Beginning of war:
35,000–47,000 soldiers[15]
37 aircraft, 62 tanks, 100 armored vehicles[7]
64,500 soldiers[16]
1,500 Soviet advisors
12,000–18,000 Cuban soldiers[17][18]
2,000 Yemeni soldiers[19]
Beginning of war:
31,000[20]–39,000 soldiers[21]
53 aircraft, 250 tanks, 350 armored vehicles, and 600 artillery guns[22][23]
45,000–63,000 soldiers[21][16]
Casualties and losses
6,133 killed[24]
8,207 wounded[25]
2,523 captured[25]
Equipment losses:
23 aircraft[24]
139 tanks[24]
108 APCs[24]
1,399 vehicles[24]
163 killed[25][26]
250 wounded[27]
6 tanks[27]
South Yemen:
90 killed
150 wounded[27]
Soviet Union:
33 advisors killed[28]
6,453 killed
2,409 wounded[24]
275 captured[24]
Equipment losses:
34 aircraft[29]
154 tanks[29]
270 APCs[29]
624 vehicles[29]
295 artillery guns[29]
25,000 civilians killed[26]
500,000 Somali inhabitants of Ethiopia displaced[30][31]

The Ogaden War, also known as the Ethio-Somali War (Somali: Dagaalkii Xoraynta Soomaali Galbeed, Amharic: የኢትዮጵያ ሶማሊያ ጦርነት, romanizedye’ītiyop’iya somalīya t’orinet), was a military conflict fought between Somalia and Ethiopia from July 1977 to March 1978 over the sovereignty of Ogaden. Somalia's invasion of the region, precursor to the wider war,[32] met with the Soviet Union's disapproval, leading the superpower to end its support for Somalia to fully support Ethiopia instead.

Ethiopia was saved from defeat and permanent loss of territory through a massive airlift of military supplies worth $1 billion, the arrival of more than 12,000 Cuban soldiers and airmen sent by Fidel Castro to win a second African victory (after his first success in Angola in 1975–76),[33] and 1,500 Soviet advisors, led by General Vasily Petrov. On 23 January 1978, Cuban armored brigades inflicted the worst losses the Somali forces had ever taken in a single action since the start of the war.[34]

The Ethiopian-Cuban force (equipped with 300 tanks, 156 artillery pieces and 46 combat aircraft)[26] prevailed at Harar and Jijiga, and began to push the Somalis systematically out of the Ogaden. On 23 March 1978, the Ethiopian government declared that the last border post had been regained, thus ending the war.[35] Almost a third of the regular SNA soldiers, three-eighths of the armored units and half of the Somali Air Force had been lost during the war. The war left Somalia with a disorganized and demoralized army as well as a heavy disapproval from its population. These conditions led to a revolt in the army which eventually spiraled into the ongoing Somali Civil War.[36]


Before the proclamation of an independent Somali state, a greater de facto Somalia already existed within the framework of foreign powers. In 1936, after the capture of Ethiopia by Italy, Italian East Africa was formed, uniting all Italian colonial possessions (Eritrea, Ethiopia, Italian Somalia) in the Horn of Africa, including British Somaliland in 1940.[37] The Italian colonial administration thus united most of the territories that had a predominantly Somali population. Italian East Africa was divided into governorates, and the Somalia Governorate included Somali-majority territories not part of present-day Somalia.

In 1941, during the British East African campaign (May–April), the Italians were defeated and the Italian colonial administration across all of Italian East Africa was replaced by a British military administration. On 31 January 1942, Ethiopia and the United Kingdom signed the first "Anglo-Ethiopian Agreement", ending British military occupation in most of Ethiopia except Ogaden.[38] As part of the second "Anglo-Ethiopian Agreement", the British military administration remained in the Ogaden province and in the so-called "Reserved Zone", adjacent to Somalia and constituting a third of Ethiopia's territory, until 19 December 1946. In 1949, the British occupation administration created the British Ogaden Protectorate, which ceased to exist in 1954. The British military contingent was withdrawn from the Ogaden in 1955,[39] and the Ogaden became part of Abyssinia.

Territorial partition

Following World War II, Britain retained control of both British Somaliland and Italian Somaliland as protectorates. In 1950, as a result of the Paris Peace Treaties, the United Nations granted Italy trusteeship of Italian Somaliland.[40][41] British Somaliland remained a protectorate of Britain until 1960.[42]

In 1948, under pressure from their World War II allies and to the dismay of the Somalis,[43] the British gave the Haud (an important Somali grazing area that was presumably 'protected' by British treaties with the Somalis in 1884 and 1886) and the Ogaden to Ethiopia, based on an 1897 treaty in which the British, French and Italians agreed upon the territorial boundaries of the Ethiopian Empire with Emperor Menelik II in exchange for his help against raids by hostile clans.[44]

Britain included the provision that the Somali residents would retain their autonomy, but Ethiopia immediately claimed sovereignty over the area.[40] This prompted an unsuccessful bid by the United Kingdom in 1956 to buy back the Somali lands it had turned over.[40]

Independence, 1964 Ethiopian–Somali War and 1969 Coup

British Somaliland became independent on 26 June 1960 as the State of Somaliland; the Trust Territory of Somalia (former Italian Somaliland) followed suit five days later.[45] On 1 July 1960, the two territories united to form the Somali Republic.[46][47]

Three and a half years later, starting February 1964, Somalia and Ethiopia had their first war following a major rebellion that had begun in the Ogaden during June 1963.[48]

In October 1969, while paying a visit to the northern town of Las Anod, Somali President Shermarke was shot dead by one of his bodyguards. His assassination was quickly followed by a military coup d'état on 21 October (the day after his funeral), in which the Somali Army seized power without encountering armed opposition. The putsch was spearheaded by Major General Mohamed Siad Barre, who at the time commanded the army.[49]

Supreme Revolutionary Council

Somali Major General Mohamed Siad Barre, Chairman of the Supreme Revolutionary Council

Alongside Barre, the Supreme Revolutionary Council (SRC) that assumed power after President Sharmarke's assassination was led by Lieutenant Colonel Salaad Gabeyre Kediye and Chief of Police Jama Ali Korshel. Kediye officially held the title of "Father of the Revolution", and Barre shortly afterwards became the head of the SRC.[50] The SRC subsequently renamed the country the Somali Democratic Republic,[51][52] dissolved the parliament and the Supreme Court, and suspended the constitution.[53]

In addition to Soviet funding and arms support provided to Somalia, Egypt sent to the country millions of dollars' worth of arms shipments.[7] Though the United States had offered Somalia arms support prior to the 1977 invasion, the offer was withdrawn following the news of Somali troops operating in the Ogaden Region.[54]

Somali strategy

Under the leadership of General Mohammad Ali Samatar, Irro and other senior Somali military officials were tasked in 1977 with formulating a national strategy in preparation for the war against Ethiopia.[55] This was part of a broader effort to unite all of the Somali-inhabited territories in the Horn region into a Greater Somalia (Soomaaliweyn).[56]

A distinguished graduate of the Soviet Frunze Military Academy, Samatar oversaw Somalia's military strategy. During the Ogaden War, Samatar was the Commander-in-Chief of the Somali Armed Forces.[55] He and his frontline deputies faced off against their mentor and former Frunze alumnus, General Vasily Petrov, assigned by the USSR to advise the Ethiopian Army. A further 15,000 Cuban troops, led by General Arnaldo Ochoa, also supported Ethiopia.[57][58] General Samatar was assisted in the offensive by several field commanders, most of whom were also Frunze graduates:[59]

Somali Air Force

The Somali Air Force was primarily organized along Soviet lines, as its officer corps were trained in the USSR.[27][60]

Somali Air Force operational aircraft


The party badge of the Derg regime of Ethiopia (c. 1979).

In September 1974, Emperor Haile Selassie had been overthrown by the Derg military council, marking a period of turmoil. The Derg quickly fell into internal conflict to determine who would have primacy.[62] Meanwhile, various anti-Derg groups as well as separatist movements began emerging throughout the country.

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; by late 1975, the group had attacked numerous government outposts. WSLF controlled most of the Ogaden, the first time since World War II that all of Somalia had been united (with the exception of the Northern Frontier District in Kenya). The victory in Ogaden occurred primarily because of support from the Harari populace who had aligned with the WSLF.[63][64] From 1976 to 1977, Somalia supplied arms and other aid to the WSLF.

Opposition to the reign of the Derg was the main cause of the Ethiopian Civil War. This conflict began as extralegal violence between 1975 and 1977, known as the Red Terror, when the Derg struggled for authority, first with various opposition groups within the country, then with a variety of groups jockeying for the role of vanguard party. Though human rights violations were committed by all sides, the great majority of abuses against civilians as well as actions leading to devastating famine were committed by the government.[65]

A sign that order had been restored among Derg factions was the announcement on February 11, 1977, that Mengistu Haile Mariam had become head of state. However, the country remained in chaos as the military attempted to suppress its civilian opponents in a period known as the Red Terror (Qey Shibir in Amharic). 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 therefore secretly approached Mengistu with offers of aid, which he accepted. Ethiopia closed the U.S. military mission and its communications center in April 1977.[66][67][68]

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

Ethiopian Air Force

The Ethiopian Air Force (ETAP) was formed thanks to British and Swedish aid during the 1940s and 1950s, and started receiving significant US support in the 1960s. Despite its small size, the ETAP was an elite force, consisting of hand-picked officers and running an intensive training program for airmen at home and abroad.[69]

The Ethiopian Air Force benefited from a US Air Force aid program. A team of US Air Force officers and NCOs assessed the force and provided recommendations as part of the Military Advisory and Assistance Group. The ETAP was restructured as a US-style organization. Emphasis was given to training institutions. Ethiopian personnel were sent to the US for training, including 25 Ethiopian pilots for jet training, and many more were trained locally by US Defense personnel.[70]

Prior to 1974, the Ethiopian Air Force mainly consisted of a dozen F-86 Sabres and a dozen F-5A Freedom Fighters. In 1974, Ethiopia requested the delivery of McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom fighters, but the US instead offered it 16 Northrop F-5E Tiger IIs, armed with AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles, and two Westinghouse AN/TPS-43D mobile radars (one of which was later positioned in Jijiga).[71] Due to human rights violations in the country, only 8 F-5E Tiger IIs had been delivered by 1976.[69]

Ethiopian Air Force operational aircraft

Castro's trip to Aden

Fidel Castro meeting South Yemeni president Salim Rubai Ali during his visit to Aden, 1977

When the Cubans and the Soviets learned of Somali plans to annex the Ogaden, Castro flew in March 1977 to Aden, South Yemen, where he suggested an Ethiopian-Somali-Yemeni Socialist Federation. Castro's plan didn't get any support, and two months later Somali forces attacked the Ethiopians. Cuba, supported by troops from the USSR and South Yemen, sided with Ethiopia.[72][73][74]


Course of the war

Approximate extent of Greater Somalia
Ethiopian territory occupied by Somalia in 1977

Somali invasion (July–August 1977)

The Somali National Army (SNA) committed to invade the Ogaden on July 12, 1977, according to Ethiopian Ministry of National Defense documents (other sources state July 13 or 23).[75][76]

According to Gebru Tareke, the invaders had 23 mechanized battalions, 9 armored battalions, 4 airborne battalions and 9 artillery battalions which numbered around 31,000 to 39,000 men, 53 fighter jets, 250 tanks, 350 armored personnel carriers (APCs), and 600 artillery pieces. Arrayed against such a force were Ethiopia's 3 infantry brigades, a mechanized brigade, 2 tank and 2 artillery battalions, and 2 air defense batteries with a total of 35,000 to 47,000 regular troops and militiamen. Despite the clear disadvantage in fighting men, the Somalis held numerical superiority over the Ethiopians in terms of tanks, artillery, and armored personnel carriers (APCs). The Ethiopian army was thinly spread, as the army and militia units were scattered all over the vast plains of the Ogaden, its best units were engaged in the Eritrean War of Independence to the north. The 10th Mechanized Brigade was stationed at Jijiga, the 5th, 9th, and 11th Infantry Brigades were based at Gode, Kebri Dahar, and Degehabur. In addition, an infantry battalion was stationed at each frontier outpost, such as Aware, Warder, Galadin, and Mustahil. All these army units were placed under the 3rd Division, headquartered in Harar.[75]

With only infantry and anti-tank guns, Ethiopian troops found themselves in a precarious situation. Somali tanks swiftly advanced westward, penetrating 700 kilometers into Ethiopia and capturing 350,000 square kilometers. Their advantage stemmed from superior equipment and organization, particularly in tanks. They employed an offensive strategy centered on speed and quickly exploiting weaknesses. Their attack pattern involved massive infiltrations behind the front lines, intense artillery barrages, and coordinated mechanized bombing raids. A militia brigade from the 219th Battalion were deployed to Gode to support the 5th Infantry Brigade, which had endured relentless artillery bombardment since July 13th. Despite their efforts, Gode was captured by the Somalis on July 25. Without artillery or air support to cover their retreat, the Ethiopian defenders were effectively annihilated, with only 489 out of the 2,350 militiamen managing to return to Harar, the rest presumed dead.[16]

The 9th brigade at Kebri Dahar fought fiercely before retreating to Harar on July 31. The 11th Infantry Brigade stationed at Degehabur persisted in combat until the end of July when it received orders to withdraw to Jijiga. Soviet General Vasily Petrov had to report back to Moscow 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. Within less then a month of the invasion, 70% of the Ogaden had been taken by the SNA-WSLF force. Somalia easily overpowered Ethiopian military hardware and technology. The Soviet-made T-54 and T-55 main battle tanks had, in Gebru's words, "bigger guns, better armour, greater range and more maneuverability than Ethiopia's aging M-41 and M-47 [American-made tanks]." Similarly, Ethiopia's American-made 155mm artillery pieces were outmaneuvered and outranged by Somalia’s Soviet- made 122mm D-30 field howitzer guns. Over the years, the Soviets had been arming Somalia’s military forces with the latest weapons. Somali commanders calculated that their stockpiles of Soviet arsenal would enable them to wage war for six months. They anticipated that once the Soviets learned of the invasion, they might terminate the flow of arms to Somalia. The Somali objective was thus to occupy the whole of the Ogaden and by December 1977, before the suspension of Soviet weapons shipments could have a serious impact on their offensive.[77][76]

The Somali forces did suffer some early setbacks; as on July 16, just four days after the beginning of the invasion, the Somalis launched a surprise attack on Dire Dawa with an infantry brigade, two artillery battalions, a tank battalion, a ballistic missile rocket battery, and three brigades of the Western Somali Liberation Front (WSLF) guerrillas. The Ethiopian defense—the 78th Brigade, the 7th Infantry Battalion, the 216th Battalion, and the 752nd Battalion—were enormously outnumbered and outgunned by the Somalis. The battle raged until 11:00 hours, and the Somalis pushed the defenders to the outskirts of the city; the outcome of the battle for the strategic city would prove critical. Not only was Ethiopia's second largest air base located there, but the city represented both its crossroads into the Ogaden and rail lifeline to the Red Sea. At that critical moment, reinforcements arrived from Harar. With close air support, the troops from Harar helped the defenders drive the Somalis back twenty kilometers from the city. Around the same time, the Ethiopian Air Force (ETAP) also began to establish air superiority using its Northrop F-5s, despite initially being outnumbered by Somali MiG-21s. Even though the Somalis possessed more aircraft (53 to 36) during the initial months of the war, they were outmatched by the Ethiopian Air Force. The Ethiopians not only attained near-absolute control over their own skies but also managed to breach Somali airspace, reaching as far as the city of Berbera and destroying 9 MiG-17s and 18 MiG-21s in the air and another 6 on the ground within Somali territory.[78][77]

The Somali Armed Forces conducting a military parade shortly before the outbreak of the war in 1977.

Following the relatively easy capture of Delo, Elekere, and Filtu by August 8, the Somalis seemed to be strategically positioned to attain their objective of liberating the Ogaden by the December. Dire Dawa, an important industrial city of 70,000 inhabitants, was now in their sights. On August 17, the Somalis launched an assault against Dire Dawa. The Somalis advanced on the city with 2 motorized brigades, 1 tank battalion and 1 BM-13 battery. Facing these were the Ethiopian 2nd Division, the 201st battalion, the 781st battalion, the 4th Mechanized Company, and a tank platoon with two tanks. On August 17 the Somalis advanced from Harewa to the northeastern part of the city at night. Despite losing three tanks to landmines en route, they launched a ground assault the following day. The 781st battalion held out in Shinile for several hours before being forced to retreat to the city. As the Somalis closed in on the city they began shelling it with artillery. A Somali tank battalion managed to push through and temporarily made the country's second major airport non-operational; the air traffic control and as many as 9 aircraft on the ground were destroyed. For the next 20 hours the Ethiopians and the Somalis engaged in a fierce battle until the Ethiopian air force began to relentlessly pound the enemy, destroying 16 T-55s. The Somalis had exhausted their strength were forced to retreat, leaving behind a trail of abandoned equipment, including tanks, armored cars, artillery pieces, as well as hundreds of assault rifles and machine guns.[79]

The Soviet Union, finding itself allied to both sides of the war, attempted to mediate a ceasefire. While the Ethiopians was fighting hard to stop the Somali advances, Mengistu Haile Mariam kept on pressing the Soviets to deliver arms to Ethiopia. The Soviets responded in the affirmative: they supplied Ethiopia with substantial weapons such artillery and tanks in early September 1977. Two weeks later, the Derg received other good news: the termination of Soviet arms delivery to Somalia. The Soviets were thus committed to helping Ethiopia. Beginning at the final week of September, the Soviets supplied Ethiopia with T-55 tanks, rocket launchers, and MiG-21 fighter planes, a Soviet military airlift with advisors for Ethiopia took place (second in magnitude only to the colossal October 1973 resupplying of Syrian forces during the Yom Kippur War), alongside 15,000 Cuban combat troops in a military role. South Yemen sent in late September two armored battalions to Ethiopia. On November 13 Somalia ordered all Soviet advisers to leave the country within seven days, ended Soviet use of its strategic naval facilities and also broke diplomatic relations with Cuba.[80][81]

Other communist countries like South Yemen and North Korea offered Ethiopia military assistance.[80] East Germany offered training, engineering and support troops.[4] Israel reportedly provided cluster bombs, napalm and were also allegedly flying combat aircraft for Ethiopia.[82][83] Not all communist states sided with Ethiopia. Because of the Sino-Soviet rivalry, China supported Somalia diplomatically and with token military aid.[84][85] Romania under Nicolae Ceauşescu had a habit of breaking with Soviet policies and also maintained good diplomatic relations with Barre.

Somali victories and siege of Harar (September–January)

Main articles: Battle of Harar and Battle of Jijiga

Cuban soldiers
Damaged Somali National Army (SNA) T-34 tank undergoing repairs

The greatest single victory of the SNA-WSLF was the assault on Jijiga in mid-September 1977. Undaunted by their setback at Dire Dawa, the reinforced Somalis redirected their efforts towards the third-largest provincial town. On September 2, they launched a forceful attack, employing artillery, mortar, and tanks. A renewed and more resolute offensive took place on September 9, as the Somalis relentlessly bombarded Ethiopian positions with rockets and artillery shells. Adding to the challenges, Somali fire managed to destroy the radar atop Mount Karamara, diminishing the Ethiopian air force's ability to provide essential close air support. This event prompted a large-scale retreat to Adaw. As the Somalis intensified their artillery shelling on Adaw, the army conducted a full retreat to Kore. On September 12, 1977, Jijiga fell into the hands of the Somalis. Worse still, on September 13, Marda Pass on Mount Karamara, of huge strategic importance, fell into Somali hands, 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.[86]

The retreating Ethiopian forces eventually came to a halt at Kore, positioned midway between Jijiga and Harar. Amidst the falling Somali artillery shells, panic once again gripped the soldiers at Kore. The 3rd Division, which had established its headquarters at Kore, responded to the retreat with harsh measures, ordering the air force to strike friendly forces if they retreated. These setbacks were promptly attributed to "fifth columnists," leading to the execution of several officers and NCOs for alleged conspiracy with "anarchists"—primarily leftist political organizations, particularly the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Party (EPRP). Despite this, it did not spare the commander of the 3rd Division from criticism from his superiors. Mengistu Haile Mariam told him to redeem himself for the fall of Karamara by establishing a defensive line at Kore, and by eventually recapturing the Pass. At this point, the government called for a general mobilization. From September 14 to 21, Mengistu issued several directives for mobilization using the slogans "everything to the warfront" and "revolutionary motherland or death".[87]

Following the capture of Jijiga and Karamara, a one-week pause in fighting ensued. During this period, Mengistu formulated a novel operational strategy named "Awroa" to the Eastern Command, which he subsequently reorganized into the Dire Dawa and Harar sectors. Operation Awrora aimed to thwart Somalia's strategic objectives by resolutely defending the cities of Dire Dawa and Harar. In the latter part of September, the Somali offensive experienced a rapid decline, attributed to adverse weather conditions, challenging terrain, and exhaustion among their forces. The initial Somali blitzkrieg concluded, marking the commencement of an attrition phase. Losing their momentum, the Somalis provided an opening for the Ethiopians to regroup their troops, introduce fresh units and additional weaponry, and construct bunkers on the hillsides.[87]

The Somalis then launched an offensive, advancing towards the east toward Harar. Their primary aim was on penetrating the eastern front line, pushing forward from Karamara and Fik. Despite the weak position of the Ethiopian defense line, it took the Somalis over seven weeks to breach it. Beginning the of end of September, the Soviets supplied Ethiopia with significant arms, such as aircraft and tanks. Additionally, as the Ethiopian army gained more combat experience, they became more experienced with their new Soviet weaponry. Although the Somalis enjoyed full support in the Ogaden, the highland population, vehemently opposed the Somalis and provided unwavering support to the Ethiopian army in various ways, ranging from scouting to guarding strategic crossroads. As the Somalis advanced further into hostile territories, their stretched lines became increasingly susceptible to disruption.[88]

Over a span of four months, from the last week of September to the middle of December, the Somalis exerted considerable effort to seize Harar. On two occasions, it appeared that the city, with its forty-eight thousand inhabitants and as the home of Ethiopia's foremost military academy, was on the brink of falling. However, Harar did not surrender, primarily due to the relatively slow and indecisive operational maneuvers of the Somalis and the arrival of Soviet weapons in late October. The Ethiopians were bolstered by deployment of 100,000 recently trained troops outfitted in new Soviet gear, around 30,000 of them, referred to as the "1st Revolutionary Liberation Army", were subsequently sent to the Somali front. By December, the exhausted Somali forces were forced to withdraw to Fedis, Jaldessa and Harewa, where they had to await the Ethiopian counterattack. At this point came the regular Cuban troops, with only a few hundred in December, they eventually grew to three thousand in January to 16,000 in February. They were armed with full Soviet gear, including T-62 tanks, artillery, and APCs. The Somalis had gambled by cutting off the Russians and Cubans; now they stood virtually alone against an multinational colossus.[89][33]

Ethiopian-Cuban counterattack (February–March)

In January 1978, the Derg established the Supreme Military Strategic Committee (or SMSC), composing of Ethiopian, Soviet, and Cuban officers to plan and direct the counter offensive. The Committee was led by General Vasily Petrov, the deputy commander of the Soviet Ground Forces. The operation marked was painstakingly planned and well-directed. Its key elements included surprise artillery barrages, which were followed by subsequent mass infantry and mechanized assaults, drawing inspiration from Soviet assault tactics. The counter offensive was preceded by an ambitious Somali attempt to capture Harar on January 22. The Somalis initiated their plan by launching mortar and rocket attacks on the town of Babile from Hill 1692, with the apparent intention of diverting Ethiopian attention. At 15:30 hours, multiple Somali infantry brigades, supported by a substantial number of tanks advanced toward Harar from Fedis and Kombolcha. In a coordinated ground and air resistance involving Cuban soldiers for the first time, the Ethiopians engaged the Somalis a few miles from Harar; they launched a series of sharp thrusts against the attackers, pinning them down. While a ground battle with tanks unfolded, jet fighter-bombers attacked the enemy's rear and communication lines. The Somalis suffered a significant defeat, with casualties possibly reaching as high as 3,000—their most significant loss since the war began. Following this success, the Ethiopians shifted from a defensive to an offensive stance. From January 23 to 27, the Ethiopian 11th Division and the Cuban armored units were able to recapture all territory up to Fedis. In the process, they captured 15 tanks, numerous APCs, 48 artillery guns, 7 anti-aircraft guns, numerous infantry weapons, and various munitions.[90]

The Ethiopian-Cuban counterattack occurred began on February 1, the Ninth Division headed by Cuban shock troops attacked the Somalis in Harewa, immediately forcing them to retreat, the attackers then moved north and captured Jaldessa on the 4th. By February 9th, the Somalis fled from the towns of Chinaksen, Ejersa Goro, and Gursum, leaving behind 42 tanks, numerous APCs, and over 50 artillery guns. A column of Ethiopian and Cuban troops then crossed northeast into the highlands between Jijiga and the border with Somalia, bypassing the SNA-WSLF force defending the Marda Pass. The responsibility for the task was assigned to the Tenth Division, which relied on a Cuban tank brigade with over 60 T-62 tanks. On February 15, they maneuvered around the impregnable Marda Pass, opting for an detour through Arabi and advancing towards the Shebele pass, successfully capturing it on the 24th. Despite strong Somali resistance at Grikocher, the town was eventually secured on the 28th. This paved the way for the 69th Militia Brigade to join the 10th Division in Lewenaji. From this point onward, the advance to Jijiga was led by the 69th Brigade, the forward units reached the western side of the mountains around Jijiga on February 28. The Somalis stationed at Jijiga attacked the Ethiopians on the mountain range, but were pinned down due to unremitting airstrikes. With enemy attention focused on the west, Soviet Mil Mi-6 and Mil Mi-8 helicopters airlifted the Ethiopian 1st Paracommando Brigade behind enemy lines, which laid the groundwork for the ultimate attack on the town. The 10th Division and its Cuban shock troops advanced towards Jijiga, while the Ethiopian 75th Infantry Brigade and the 1st Paracommando Brigade took a southerly route through the mountains to seize the Marda Pass. Six Somali brigades in the garrison valiantly fought for three days against overwhelming odds. Hindered by the absence of air cover, dwindling supplies, and tank strength possibly below 50 percent, they were forced to retreat on March 5, narrowly avoiding an encirclement. The Somalis lost as many as 3,000 men, whereas Ethiopian and Cuban casualties were apparently very light.[91]

The war was effectively concluded with the recapture of Jijiga on March 5 (Yekatit 26) at 0900 hours. Mengistu Haile Mariam, buoyed by the retaking of Karamara and Jijiga, had been deeply horrified by their capture six months prior. In a statement praising the Eastern Command for their efforts, he expressed, "This marks not just a victory for the Ethiopian people but also for the struggles of the workers of the world." From there on, the Somalis were on the run and it took just three weeks to restore Ethiopian sovereignty over nearly all occupied areas. The Ethiopians and the Cubans immediately began a general offensive. A column comprising the Ethiopian 3rd Division and the 3rd Cuban Tank Brigade effortlessly captured Degehabur on March 8. Meanwhile, to the west, Somali forces unexpectedly resisted the 8th Division's advance towards Fik. During this engagement, the Ethiopian 94th Brigade suffered severe losses at Abusharif, leading its commander, Major Bekele Kassa, to take his own life rather than face capture. Despite this setback, the Division, reinforced by a Cuban battalion, pressed on and covered a distance of 150 kilometers to reach Fik on March 8. 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 their heavy weapons.[92] The last significant Somali unit left Ethiopia on 15 March 1978, marking the end of the war.

Effects of the war

The Tiglachin Monument in Addis Ababa commemorates the victory of the Derg over Somalia in the Ogaden War

Executions and rape of civilians and refugees by Ethiopian and Cuban troops were prevalent throughout the war.[93][94] A large Cuban contingent remained in Ethiopia after the war to protect the socialist government.[93] Assisted by the Cuban contingent, the Ethiopian army launched a second offensive in December 1979 directed at the population's means of survival, including the poisoning and destruction of wells and killing of cattle herds. Thousands of Somali civilians in the Ogaden were killed. Combined with the flight of several hundred thousand refugees into Somalia, this represented an attempt to pacify the region with brute force. Around half of the population in the Ogaden were displaced to Somalia, some diplomats referred to the depopulation in the Ogaden as a genocide.[94]

Following the withdrawal of the SNA, the Western Somali Liberation Front (WSLF) continued its insurgency. By May 1980, the rebels, with the assistance of a small number of SNA soldiers who continued helping their guerrilla war, controlled a large part of the Ogaden region. It took a massive counter-insurgency campaign to clear the region of guerrillas by 1981, although the insurgency continued until the mid-1980s. The WSLF was practically defunct by the mid 1980s, and its splinter group, the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), operated from headquarters in Kuwait. Even though elements of the ONLF would later manage to slip back into the Ogaden, their actions had little impact.[95]

For the Barre regime, the invasion was perhaps the greatest strategic blunder since independence,[96] and it greatly weakened the military. Almost one-third of regular SNA soldiers, three-eighths of its armored units, and half of the Somali Air Force (SAF) were lost. The weakness of the Barre administration 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 ally from the late 1970s to 1988 in exchange for use of Somali bases it used for access to the Middle East, and as a way to exert influence in the Horn of Africa.[97] A second armed clash in 1988 between Somalia and Ethiopia ended when the two countries agreed to withdraw their armed forces from the border.

Refugee crisis

Somalia's defeat in the war caused an influx of Ethiopian refugees (mostly ethnic Somalis as well as some Harari and Oromo)[98] across the border to Somalia. By 1979, official figures reported 1.3 million refugees in Somalia, more than half of them settled in the lands of the Isaaq clan-family in the north. According to a 1979 report from The New York Times refugees were also held in southern Somalia which consisted of 200,000 Hararis and 100,000 Oromo.[99] As the state became increasingly reliant on international aid, aid resources allocated for the refugees caused further resentment from local Isaaq residents, especially as they felt no effort was made on the government's part to compensate them for bearing the burden of the war.[100]

Furthermore, Barre heavily favoured the Ogaden refugees, who belonged to the same clan (Darod) as him. Due to these ties, Ogaden refugees enjoyed preferential access to "social services, business licenses and even government posts."[100] As expressed animosity and discontent in the north grew, Barre armed the Ogaden refugees, and in doing so created an irregular army operating inside Isaaq territories. The armed Ogaden refugees, together with members of the Marehan and Dhulbahanta soldiers (who were provoked and encouraged by the Barre regime) started a terror campaign against the local Isaaqs,[101] raping women, murdering unarmed civilians, and preventing families from conducting proper burials.

Barre ignored Isaaq complaints throughout the 1980s.[101] This, in addition to Barre's suppression of criticism or even discussion of widespread atrocities in the north,[101] had the effect of turning long-standing Isaaq disaffection into open opposition, with many Isaaq forming the Somali National Movement, leading to the ten-year civil war in northwestern Somalia (today the de facto state of Somaliland).[102]

See also



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