The Ogaden war between Ethiopia and Somalia (1977-1978): the historical and political premises of the conflict

(To Manuele Serventi Merlo)
03/05/17

The historical origins of the Ogaden war can be traced back to the late nineteenth century when the different European colonial powers, present in the area of ​​the Horn of Africa, divided the territory into air divisions without having any regard for the ethnological aspects.
When World War II was over and its Empire was restored, the Negus Haile Selassi also included the Ogaden in Ethiopia despite being inhabited by Somali ethnic populations. This happened at a time when Somalia was still under Italian trustee mandate by the UN mandate, after which - July 1960 - it was not long before Somali politicians claimed the Ethiopian Ogaden as part of a pansomal policy.
Given the continuous Ethiopian waste, the rulers of Mogadishu gradually assumed increasingly warlike attitudes that seriously worried Somalia's military partners. Thus, in the 1963, a large insurrection of the Somali ethnic populations present in the Ogaden arrived.

Although initially Somalia did not intervene, as aware of its military weakness compared to the cumbersome close, later, given the mobilization of domestic public opinion, it was forced to intervene to intervene deploying its Armed Forces at the border.
After several incidents and skirmishes with the Ethiopian troops engaged in the violent repression of the uprising, the Somali forces crossed the border and attacked. The Ethiopian Army, however, resisted and managed to counterattack with the help of aviation.
Thanks to the intervention of the international community in March 1964 the hostilities were interrupted, thus allowing Ethiopia and Somalia to sign a ceasefire in Khartoum.

Nevertheless, enmity continued to hatch between the two states. For this reason, Somalia decided to increase its army's staff to 20.000 men and to turn to the east for a substantial military aid package.
Thus arrived in the country of the Horn of Africa about 150 T-34 tanks, numerous APC BTR-40, BTR-152 and pieces of artillery from 76 mm and 122 mm. Also the Somali air body was significantly enhanced through the supply of over 50 aircraft, including many MiG-17.
Just in time: in October 1969, in fact, after a series of unrest culminating with the assassination of the then President of the Republic in charge Shirmarke, Gen. Mohammed Siad Barre.
The latter, already the supreme commander of the Somali army, wasted no time and declared Somalia a Socialist Republic with strong ties to the Warsaw Pact countries.
So it was that they arrive in Somalia other conspicuous economic and military aid from the Soviets in exchange for the use of the port of Barbera and the airports of Chisimaio, Baidoa and Mogadishu itself. Together with Soviet means, several hundred advisers arrived for the training of local troops.
In this case, the Somali military arsenals reached 200 T-55 tanks, as well as APC BTR-50P, 40 new MiG-21MF fighters accompanied by SA-2 missiles, artillery pieces, etc.

Armaments certainly modern for the time, but which, however, did not prevent the general level of efficiency of Somali troops remained rather low.

Even the neighboring rival Ethiopia was experiencing strong political changes. In the 1974, the old emperor Hailè Selassiè (photo) was overthrown and his place was occupied by a group of young officers of clear Marxist sympathies reunited in the Derg ("Committee").
After a series of internal struggles, within the committee emerged the figure of the magg. Mengistu Haile Mariam as a strong man of the new regime. In all this, of course, the various separatist movements present in the Ethiopian territory did not remain to watch. Eritrea first and the same Ogaden subsequently returned to ignite.

Ethiopia thus entered a serious economic crisis, worsened by the US blockade of economic and military aid in the 1976 for the change of political direction of Addis Ababa. Change of political address that the USSR could use cleverly using Cuba as a Trojan horse.

The fruits of such a foreign policy were not long in coming: in May, 1977 Mengistu flew to Moscow, where he signed several cooperation agreements after giving the US census by arranging for the closure of their embassy the 23 of the month.
Siad Barre was very annoyed by this new collaboration between Ethiopia and the USSR as he saw an obstacle to the creation of the Great Somalia. In order to calm him down, Moscow then proposed the creation of a Federation of States of the Horn of Africa that included Ethiopia, Somalia itself and South Yemen. To promote it a great Conference of Heads of State was held which was held in Aden with the presidency of Castro. But nothing concrete came out: Barre remained of his positions.
At this point, the USSR left Somalia to turn its aid to Ethiopia in a serious internal crisis due to the attempt to secede Eritrea. Somalia therefore had to turn to the Arab countries in the name of the common Muslim faith. Even Washington, until then at the window, resumed relations with Barre in an anti-Soviet key. The Somali president knew about the difficulties of the Ethiopians and their own. At the same time, he also knew that this could be the last chance to resume the Ogaden. He decided to set up a guerrilla campaign in the Ogaden using about 5000 men from the WSLF (West Somalia Liberation Front), who were placed and directed by regular army officers on leave to justify their moves.

At the time, the SNA (Somali National Army), counted 35.000 men and about 300 wagons between T-34 and T-54 / T-55, plus 350 APC BTR-50P and BTR-152 divided into four brigades with one or two battalion tanks, a mechanized infantry battalion and one of artillery with 122mm howitzers, 76 mm cannons and BM-21 rocket launchers. In turn, the SAC (Somali Air Corps), with a staff of about 1.750 effective, had more or less 40 combat aircraft including 30 MiG-21MF and a dozen MiG-17, accompanied by an even number of helicopters Mil Mi-8 along with three C-47 Dakota and other training aircraft, aircraft that the Somali air force concentrated mainly at the air base of the city of Hargeysa, located about 50 km from the border with Ethiopia.

On the other side of the barricade, the Ethiopian Army could count on about 55.000 men and 120 tanks M-24, M-41 and M-47, two artillery battalions with 48 pieces from 105 mm and two airtight btgs. The Ethiopian military aviation was in very difficult conditions after the cessation of any military assistance program by Western countries. In the summer, 1977 could therefore deploy only forty front-line aircraft engaged almost exclusively in Eritrea, but with a good level of training. In this case, it was organized on a Squadron of 10 fighter bomber Northrop F-5A and 8 F-5E Tiger II, three hunting squadrons with 18 / 20 North American F-86F Saber and one bombing on three English Electric Canberra B Mk- 52. To complete the picture there were departments based on single-engine SAAB 17B and North American T-28A, assisted by a significant transport component with about 50 between C-47, C-54 and C-119K.

Read the second part: "Somalia attacks"

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