Ogaden War

Ogaden War
Part of the Ethiopian–Somali conflict and the Cold War
Cubans in Ogaden1.JPG
Cuban artillerymen prepare to fire at Somali forces in the Ogaden
DateJuly 13, 1977[6] – March 15, 1978
(8 months and 2 days)

Ethiopian victory[7][8]

Supported by:
 Soviet Union
 South Yemen
 North Korea[1]
 East Germany
Somalia Somalia
Supported by:
 United States[2]
 Saudi Arabia[5]
Djibouti Djibouti
Commanders and leaders
Mengistu Haile Mariam[11]
Tesfaye Gebre Kidan [11]
Addis Tedla
Soviet Union Vasily Petrov[12]
Cuba Arnaldo Ochoa[13]
Somalia Siad Barre
Somalia Muhammad Ali Samatar
Somalia Mohamed Farrah Aidid
SomaliaAbdullahi Ahmed Irro
Somalia Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed
Mohamed Hikam Sheikh Abdirahman
Beginning of war:
35,000–47,000 soldiers in total[14]
75,000 fulltime soldiers [15]
1,500 Soviet advisors
12,000 Cubans[16]
Beginning of war:
39,000 soldiers [14]
End of war:
SNA 63,200[17]
WSLF 15,000
Casualties and losses
6,133 killed[18]
10,563 wounded[18]
3,867 captured or missing (including 1,362 deserters)[18][19]
400 killed[19]
South Yemen:
100 killed[19]
33 dead [20]
1,000 killed
500,000 displaced[21][22]

Equipment losses:
23 Aircraft[18]
193 tanks[18]
108 APCs[18]
139 vehicles[18]
7,453 killed[18]
2,409 wounded[18]
275 captured or missing[18]
Equipment losses:
28 Aircraft[18]
72 tanks[18]
30 APCs[18]
90 vehicles[18]

The Ogaden War was a Somali military offensive between July 1977 and March 1978 over the disputed Ethiopian region of Ogaden, which began with the Somali invasion of Ethiopia.[23] The Soviet Union disapproved of the invasion and ceased its support of Somalia, instead starting to support Ethiopia; the United States, conversely, ceased its support of Ethiopia and started supporting Somalia. Ethiopia was saved from a major defeat and a permanent loss of territory through a massive airlift of military supplies (worth $7 billion), the arrival of 16,000 Cuban troops, 1,500 Soviet advisors and two brigades from South Yemen, also airlifted to reinforce Harar. The Ethiopians prevailed at Harar, Dire Dawa and Jijiga, and began to push the Somalis systematically out of the Ogaden. By March 1978, the Ethiopians had captured almost all of the Ogaden, prompting the defeated Somalis to give up their claim to the region.[24] A third of the initial Somali National Army invasion force was killed, and half of the Somali Airforce destroyed; the war left Somalia with a disorganized and demoralized army and an angry population. All of these conditions led to a revolt in the army which eventually spiraled into a civil war and Somalia's current situation.[25]


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, but only under close supervision and on the condition—first proposed by the Somali Youth League (SYL) and other nascent Somali political organizations, such as Hizbia Digil Mirifle Somali (HDMS) and the Somali National League (SNL)—that Somalia achieve independence within ten years.[26][27] British Somaliland remained a protectorate of Britain until 1960.[28][29]

In 1948, under pressure from their World War II allies and to the dismay of the Somalis,[30] the British returned 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 a treaty they signed in 1897 in which the British, French and Italians agreed upon the territorial boundaries of Ethiopia with the Ethiopian Emperor Menelik in exchange for his help against raids by hostile clans.[31] Britain included the provision that the Somali residents would retain their autonomy, but Ethiopia immediately claimed sovereignty over the area.[26] This prompted an unsuccessful bid by Britain in 1956 to buy back the Somali lands it had turned over.[26] Britain also granted administration of the almost exclusively Somali-inhabited[32] Northern Frontier District (NFD) to Kenyan nationalists despite an informal plebiscite demonstrating the overwhelming desire of the region's population to join the newly formed Somali Republic.[33]

Flag of the Somali Youth League (SYL), Somalia's first political party.

A referendum was held in neighboring Djibouti (then known as French Somaliland) in 1958, on the eve of Somalia's independence in 1960, to decide whether or not to join the Somali Republic or to remain with France. The referendum turned out in favour of a continued association with France, largely due to a combined yes vote by the sizable Afar ethnic group and resident Europeans.[34] There was also widespread vote rigging, with the French expelling thousands of Somalis before the referendum reached the polls.[35] The majority of those who voted no were Somalis who were strongly in favour of joining a united Somalia, as had been proposed by Mahmoud Harbi, Vice President of the Government Council. Harbi was killed in a plane crash two years later.[34] Djibouti finally gained its independence from France in 1977, and Hassan Gouled Aptidon, who had campaigned for a yes vote in the referendum of 1958, eventually wound up as Djibouti's first president (1977–1991).[34]

British Somaliland became independent on 26 June 1960 as the State of Somaliland, and the Trust Territory of Somalia (the former Italian Somaliland) followed suit five days later.[36] On July 1, 1960, the two territories united to form the Somali Republic.[37][38] A government was formed by Abdullahi Issa and other members of the trusteeship and protectorate governments, with Haji Bashir Ismail Yusuf as President of the Somali National Assembly, Aden Abdullah Osman Daar as President of the Somali Republic and Abdirashid Ali Shermarke as Prime Minister (later to become President from 1967–1969). On 20 July 1961, through a popular referendum, the people of Somalia ratified a new constitution that had been first drafted the previous year.[39]

On 15 October 1969, while paying a visit to the northern town of Las Anod, Somalia's then President Shermarke was shot dead by one of his own bodyguards. His assassination was quickly followed by a military coup d'état on 21 October 1969 (the day after his funeral), in which the Somali Army seized power without encountering armed opposition—essentially a bloodless takeover. The coup was spearheaded by Major General Mohamed Siad Barre, who at the time commanded the army.[40]

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 Korshel. Kediye officially held the title of "Father of the Revolution," and Barre shortly afterwards became the head of the SRC.[41] The SRC subsequently renamed the country the Somali Democratic Republic,[42][43] dissolved the parliament and the Supreme Court, and suspended the constitution.[44]

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.


Party badge of Ethiopia's Derg regime (c. 1979).

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 favoured 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 February 11, 1977. However, the country remained in chaos as the military attempted to suppress its civilian opponents in a period known as the Red Terror (or 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 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 strongly denied this, saying SNA "volunteers" were being allowed to help the WSLF.