1977 War Between Somalia and Ethiopia



On August 8th 1977, Somalia invaded Ethiopia, the latest chapter in the ongoing dispute over the Ogaden. The Somalis were initially successful in their attack, but the Soviets-- initially patrons of the Somalis-- switched sides and started supporting the Ethiopians. They withdrew all aid to the Somalis, who were thus forced to rapidly retreat.

The Ogaden War, which erupted between Somalia and Ethiopia in the late 1970s, was a significant conflict in the Horn of Africa, underlined by regional ambitions, Cold War politics, and historic enmities. The Ogaden region, predominantly inhabited by ethnic Somalis, became the flashpoint for these tensions.

On August 8th, Somalia, under the leadership of Siad Barre, launched an invasion into the Ogaden region of Ethiopia. The objective was clear: to annex the Ogaden region and incorporate it into Greater Somalia. This ambition was not new; it stemmed from the long-held dream of creating a united Somali state that included all territories inhabited by ethnic Somalis, spanning parts of Ethiopia, Kenya, and Djibouti.

The initial phases of the war were marked by Somali success. The Somali National Army, bolstered by recent acquisitions of advanced weaponry, made significant inroads into the Ogaden and captured key towns and cities. Their advance was so rapid that they soon approached the gates of Dire Dawa and Harar, two of Ethiopia's major cities in the east.

However, the geopolitical landscape was about to shift dramatically. The Soviet Union, which had been a patron of Somalia, providing military training and equipment, began to re-evaluate its stance in the Horn of Africa. The overthrow of Emperor Haile Selassie in Ethiopia in 1974 and the rise of the Marxist Derg regime under Mengistu Haile Mariam presented the Soviets with an opportunity to gain a stronger foothold in Ethiopia, a nation with a larger population and more strategic significance than Somalia.

By late 1977, the Soviets made a decisive switch in allegiance. They began pouring in massive amounts of military aid to Ethiopia, including weapons, advisors, and other resources. Additionally, Cuba, a close ally of the Soviet Union, dispatched thousands of troops to support the Ethiopian defense. This sudden influx of support dramatically shifted the balance of power.

Somalia, feeling betrayed by the Soviet realignment, found itself increasingly isolated on the international stage. With dwindling resources and facing a rejuvenated Ethiopian military, the Somalis began to lose ground. The Ethiopian counter-offensive, backed by Cuban forces and Soviet advisors, pushed the Somalis out of the Ogaden region.

By early 1978, Somali forces were in full retreat, and the dream of a Greater Somalia lay in tatters. The conflict left thousands dead and displaced, further exacerbating tensions in an already volatile region.

The Ogaden War serves as a stark reminder of the complexities of regional conflicts and how they can be influenced and escalated by global geopolitics, especially during the height of the Cold War.