1982 Ethiopian–Somali Border War

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1982 Ethiopian–Somali Border War
Part of the conflicts in the Horn of Africa and the Cold War
DateJune–August 1982

Ethiopian victory

  • Ethiopia occupies the border towns of Galdogob and Balumbale until 1988 due to pressure from the United States to give them back to Somalia.[1][2]
  • The United States government delivers emergency military and humanitarian aid to Somalia to prevent further attacks by Ethiopia.[3]
Puntland SSDF
Supported by:
 Soviet Union
Somalia Somalia
Supported by:
 United States
 United Kingdom
Commanders and leaders
Mengistu Haile Mariam
Puntland Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed
Somalia Siad Barre
Somalia Mohammed Said Hersi Morgan
10,000 Ethiopian soldiers
5000 SSDF militia[4][5][6]

The 1982 Ethiopian–Somali Border War occurred between June and August 1982 when Ethiopia, sending a 10,000 man invasion force backed by warplanes and armored units, supported by hundreds of SSDF rebels invaded Central Somalia.[5] The United States government responded by speeding up deliveries of light arms and Pattons already promised. In addition, the initially pledged US$45 million in economic and military aid was increased to US$80 million.[1][8]


Ethiopia, which lies just to the west of Somalia, has been reported as being neighbors with Somalia as early as the 5th century BC.[9] Relations between Somalia and Ethiopia began as colonial competitors in the eighteenth century.[10] During this time period, territories between the countries were constructed with much debate over which country was the sole owner. This contention culminated in a settlement where Ethiopia gave Somalia a southern strip colonized by Britain yet was granted the controversial and prized Somali region Ogaden.[10] Between the early 19th century and World War II the boundaries of the two countries were constantly disputed, leading to the intervention from the United Nations after the war.[10] The United Nations decided to revert to the colonial boundaries agreement made in the late eighteenth century. Thus enacting the boundary to the previous owner (Ethiopia), due to the agreement being the only recorded settlement between Somalia and Ethiopia.[11]

In 1969, through a military coup following the assassination of the former president Abdirashid Ali Shermarke, Commander Mohamed Siad Barre took power of Somalia.[12] Siad Barre, a self-proclaimed Marxist, quickly aligned himself with the Soviet Union. Siad Barre prioritized party supremacy and created a dictatorship government.[10] In 1977, Somalia attempted to regain control of Ogaden with the support of the Soviet Union. But by 1978 the Soviet Union had switched its allegiance to Ethiopia due to the potential political gain and potential resources.[13] In 1978, backed with Soviet weaponry and Cuban reinforcements, Ethiopia regained control of Ogaden. This resulted in the mass exodus of hundreds of thousands of Somali men and women immigrating from the Ogaden region to the Somali borders.[10] Somalia, despite losing the 1977-78 war, never recognized the international border that places the Ogaden, with its ethnic Somali population, in Ethiopia.[11] This reason, many historians believe is what kept the hate between the two countries.

Cold War Influence[edit]

Following the Soviet Union's change of allegiance from Somalia to Ethiopia in 1978, the United States became reluctant allies to Somalia.[7] America came in the 12th hour when Somalia seemingly had no other allies left.[7] America originally was aligned with Ethiopia but stopped supplying and equipping the country. The United States originally thought that in the long term Ethiopia would be more valuable assets due to its geographical position and its size.[7][9] Yet both Somalia and Ethiopia were in close proximity to western oil routes, which peaked both of the United States and the Soviet Union's stake in Africa.[9] Both the United States and the Soviet Union had military accord with the separate alliances to their respective countries.[11] America had access to ports and airstrips, while the Soviet Union had military posts scattered throughout Ethiopia by the Red Sea.[7] The extensive and continued involvement of the United States and the Soviet Union in the horn of Africa was a tribute to the game of chess called the Cold War.

Due to Siad Barre's murderous regime, the United States was only comfortable with sending light weapons for defense rather than for attack.[9] John E. Pike writes  “although the United States was prepared to help the Siad Barre regime economically through direct grants, World Bank-sponsored loans, and relaxed International Monetary Fund regulations, the United States hesitated to offer Somalia more military aid than was essential to maintain internal security. The amount of United States military and economic aid to the regime was US$34 million.”[14]

Border War[edit]

After President Siad Barre visited the United States in early February 1982, only months later did the assault on Somalia's border began.[14] In the middle of July the SSDF (Somalia Salvation Democratic Front also known as Democratic Front for Salvation of Somalia), a paramilitary umbrella organization created after Siad Barre's reign as dictator began, and Ethiopia armed with soviet military weapons and machines crossed over the disputed Ogaden region into the Mudug region of Somalia.[9] The Mudug region is considered to be central Somalia. The Ethiopians and the insurgents chose this point of attack so they could threaten to split the country into two halves.[14]  The Ethiopians came armed with Soviet-supplied MIG fighters and T-55 tanks.[7] The estimated size of the Ethiopian force was around ten thousand while the Somali army was estimated to be around fifty thousand.[7] Despite the enormous difference in army size, the Somalis were extremely unprepared as they had few weapons capable of defending the country. Upon entering the country, the invaders were able to capture Balumbale and Galdogob.[7] Balumbale and Galdogob were two small towns near the capital of the Mudug region, Galcaio. After the successful seizure of Balumbale and Galdogob, Siad Barre and his government declared a state of emergency.[14] The regime were hellbent against the country becoming a war zone so they pleaded for western aid. The United States delivered arms which had been previously offered due to their previously existing allegiance. The weaponry was sent with rules stating that the guns should be used to repel the invaders but not to attack in revenge.[14] Along with the weapons, the United States also supplied Somalia with economic and military aid totalling over one hundred twenty five million dollars. In addition, the initially pledged US$45 million in economic and military aid was increased to US$80 million. The new arms were not used to repel the Ethiopians, however, but to repress Siad Barre's domestic opponents.[1][8][7]


After the Ethiopians invaded Somalia, many diplomats believed that Somalis would welcome the Ethiopians as liberators due to the human rights abuses of President Siad Barre's government.[7] Yet the historical dislike between the two countries proved too much to overcome the dislike of the Siad Barre regime.[7] In the years following the border war, President Siad Barre gained support after speaking at a summit hosted by the League of Arab States.[7] But ultimately year after year Somalia was challenged by war and economic trouble. Newly formed regional clans and guerilla groups revolted and challenged the Siad Barre government. Siad Barre's regime was also pressured economically by the International Monetary Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and the World Bank to liberalize its economy.[7] The economic system's pressured Somalia to exercise the free market system, so that its currency would reflect its true value.[7] Due to the constant economic and warfare pressure, Somalia became engulfed in a full scale civil war by 1988. The forever escalating and intense civil war resulted in Somalia's disruption. This collapse of Somalia was in the words of the Conciliation Resource “hastened by the ending of the Cold War. As Somalia's strategic importance to the West declined, the foreign aid that had sustained the state was withdrawn. Without the resources to maintain the system of patronage politics, Barre lost control of the country and the army. In January 1991 he was ousted from Mogadishu by forces of the United Somali Congress (USC) drawing support from the Hawiye clans in south central Somalia.”[15]


  1. ^ a b c "The History Guy: Ethiopia-Somalia Wars and Conflicts". Retrieved 21 July 2017.
  2. ^ "CIA: The recent trends in the Horn of Africa" (PDF). Retrieved 9 March 2011.
  3. ^ "The Status of the Somali Armed Forces" (PDF). Retrieved 9 December 2008.
  4. ^ http://www.africa.upenn.edu/Hornet/horn_sml.html
  5. ^ a b "History – Somalia – problem, area, crops, system, power". www.nationsencyclopedia.com. Retrieved 21 July 2017.
  6. ^ Yuusuf (Dhegey), Sayid-Axmed M. (19 January 2015). Milicsiga Dagaalkii Dhexmaray Xukuumaddii Maxamed S. Barre iyo Jabhaddii SNM: Sababihii Dagaalka iyo Saamayntii uu ku yeeshay Jamhuuriyaddii Soomaalida. ISBN 9789174635782.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Times, Alan Cowell and Special To the New York. "ETHIOPIAN DRIVE AGAINST SOMALIA BOGS DOWN". Retrieved 23 October 2018.
  8. ^ a b "Somalia SOMALIA'S DIFFICULT DECADE, 1980-90 - Flags, Maps, Economy, Geography, Climate, Natural Resources, Current Issues, International Agreements, Population, Social Statistics, Political System". www.workmall.com.
  9. ^ a b c d e "Recent Trends in the Horn of Africa" (PDF). Central Intelligence Agency. 15 December 1983. Retrieved 20 October 2018.
  10. ^ a b c d e "HISTORY OF SOMALIA". www.historyworld.net. Retrieved 23 October 2018.
  11. ^ a b c Times, Sheila Rule and Special To the New York. "Somalia and Ethiopia Resume Relations". Retrieved 23 October 2018.
  12. ^ "Mohamed Siad Barre | president of Somalia". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 23 October 2018.
  13. ^ "Somalia: Status of the Armed Forces" (PDF). Central Intelligence Agency. March 1982. Retrieved 20 October 2018.
  14. ^ a b c d e Pike, John. "1980s Ethiopian Conflicts". www.globalsecurity.org. Retrieved 23 October 2018.
  15. ^ "Endless war: a brief history of the Somali conflict". Conciliation Resources. 3 February 2012. Retrieved 23 October 2018.

17.Ethiopia, Somali continuing military imbalance in the Ogaden. (1983). Retrieved January 30, 2020, from [1]


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