Country Listing

Ethiopia Table of Contents



Cuba's involvement with Ethiopia paralleled that of the Soviet Union. Prior to the outbreak of the Ogaden War, Havana, like Moscow, had been an ally of Somalia. After a series of Somali armed incursions into the Ogaden ruptured already tense relations between Addis Ababa and Mogadishu, Cuban president Fidel Castro Ruz visited the Horn of Africa and urged the two countries to join in forming a regional federation that also would include South Yemen, an "autonomous" Ogaden, an "autonomous" Eritrea, and Djibouti. After the failure of this initiative, Cuba began moving closer to Ethiopia, abandoning its ties with Somalia in the process.

In November 1977, two months after Somali forces had captured Jijiga, Cuban military advisers started to arrive in Ethiopia. By the end of the month, the Soviet Union had also begun a six-week airlift, later supplemented by a sealift, of Cuban troops. From the end of November 1977 to February 1978, Havana deployed approximately 17,000 troops to Ethiopia, including three combat brigades. Some of these troops had previously been stationed in Angola.

The Cuban presence was crucial to Ethiopia's victory over Somalia. During the Derg's early 1978 counteroffensive in the Ogaden, Cuban troops fought alongside their Ethiopian counterparts. With Cuban support, Ethiopian units quickly scored several impressive victories. As a result, on March 9, 1978, Somali president Mahammad Siad Barre announced that his army was withdrawing from the Ogaden.

After the Ethiopian victory in the Ogaden, attention shifted to Eritrea. By early 1978, the EPLF had succeeded in gaining control of almost all of Eritrea except the city of Asmera and the ports of Mitsiwa and Aseb. After redeploying its forces from the Ogaden to northern Ethiopia, Addis Ababa launched a counteroffensive against the EPLF during late 1978.

Although there is some disagreement, most military observers believe that Cuba refused to participate in the operation in Eritrea because Castro considered the Eritrean conflict an internal war rather than a case of external aggression. However, the continued presence of Cuban troops in the Ogaden enabled the Mengistu regime to redeploy many of its troops to northern Ethiopia.

A large Cuban contingent, believed to number about 12,000, remained in Ethiopia after the Ogaden War. However, by mid1984 Havana had reduced its troop strength in Ethiopia to approximately 3,000. In 1988 a Cuban brigade, equipped with tanks and APCs, was stationed in Dire Dawa to guard the road and railroad between Ethiopia and Djibouti, following attacks by Somali-supported rebels. A mobile battalion of various military advisers and an unknown number of Cuban instructors who were on the Harer Military Academy faculty also remained in Ethiopia.

After Ethiopia and Somalia signed an April 1988 joint communiqué intended to reduce tensions, Cuba decided to end its military presence in Ethiopia. The last Cuban troops left on September 17, 1989, thus terminating twelve years of military cooperation.

Data as of 1991