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Somalia, Ethiopia, and The Ogaden War

In a blink of an eye, everything can change. It happened when Mengistu Haile Mariam was appointed to chairman of the military and head of state of Ethiopia on February 11, 1977. Throughout the rest of Mariam’s first year of reign, Ethiopia tried to suppress its opponents and enemies. Maxamed Siyaad Barre, president of Somalia, realized that Ethiopia was having major opposition against its own military and government, causing a lot of confusion and warfare.

Barre used this opportunity to attack Ethiopia. His army consisted of 50,000 soldiers (15,000 from the Western Somalia Liberation Front, and 35,000 regular Somalians). These soldiers started to go into the Ogaden, the eastern territory of Ethiopia, in May through June of 1977. They weeded their way into Ethiopian day-to-day life, having a huge effect on what they did. In July of 1977, treacherous warfare broke out.

Mariam’s armed forces consisted of only 24,000 soldiers with limited weapons. Predictably, Barre had over twice as many fighting men and women as Mariam. The resulted was obvious: after two long months of fighting, Barre controlled ninety percent of the Ogaden. He started pushing his military units and forcing Mariam’s units into non-Ethiopian territories and countries.

Allies of Ethiopia saw this as a huge threat and helped out. North Korea, Cuba, and the Soviet Union supported Mariam and his troops by giving Ethiopia dozens helicopter pilots, thousands of soldiers, weapons and military aid. Finally, after thirteen long, bloody months, Ethiopia (with help from its allies) gained back control over the Ogaden, and the Ogaden war was finally over.

Researched by Kacie Lake
Volunteer for the Cold War Museum
Cosby High School


"Eastern Africa, history of." Encyclopedia Britannica. 2008. Encyclopedia Britannica Online School Edition. 2 June 2008,>.

"Ethiopia." Library of Congress Country Studies (1991) 2 Jun 2008,>.

"Somalia." Library of Congress Country Studies 2 Jun 2008,>.

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