"As for the enemies of freedom, those who are potential adversaries, they will be reminded that peace is the highest aspiration of the American people. We will negotiate for it, sacrifice for it; we will not surrender for it, now or ever." - Reagan, January 20, 1981

"In Vietnam, we tried and failed in a just cause. No More Vietnams can mean we will not try again. It should mean we will not fail again." - from No More Vietnams by Richard Nixon

Monday, June 28, 2010

The first "axes of Communist penetration in Africa" - The Horn of Africa Crisis

In his extraordinary 1980 autobiography - written in exile after his 2500 year old kingdom was overthrown and the fanatical tyrant Khomeini imposed a reign of terror in an illegitimate regime known as the "Islamic Republic of Iran" - the late Shah of Iran discussed what he saw as an "axes of Communist penetration in Africa" in the 1970s:

Iran, which is only separated from Africa by Arabian Peninsula, the Red Sea, and the Indian Ocean, was concerned to see communist penetration into Africa along three axes: The first, going from Libya toward Chad, the Sudan, and Somalia, is the Mediterranean-Red Sea-Indian Ocean axis; the second aims to link the Mediterranean to the Atlantic by land; and third cuts Africa in two from Angola to Mozambique. The axes of Communist Penetration in Africa are real dividing lines. Both the longitudinal and transverse axes sever the African continent. This penetration is a vast strategic movement which threatens to destabilize the whole of Africa.Tomorrow what is called Black Africa could become Red Africa. (In an effort to thwart such actions, I [the Shah] had dreamed of contributing financially to a modern railway line linking the east and west of Aftica.)

In May 1973, Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia meet with President Nixon in the White House to discuss "I am here on an urgent matter internationally, affecting the U.S. and Ethiopia and the Indian Ocean and Red Sea area."

There has been a change in the situation in our area. You are aware of it, but we feel it closer.

The balance of forces has changed radically because Soviet influence is expanding rapidly.


We are cooperating in these areas and our forces, which you support, have always been used in the cause of peace.

We have common peace and common objectives. Soviet influence is expounding broadly. The reasons are: (1) To supersede the West in influence. (2) To gain control of the Red Sea and the commerce and resources of the area. Their methods are to strengthen the Arab states and weaken Ethiopia. Ethiopian cooperation with the West is not liked by the Arabs and by the Soviet Union.

The danger is a convergence of views of the Arabs and the Soviet Union. A minimum sacrifice on the part of the U.S. would prevent dangerous developments in the area.

The ELF is being supported.

Somalia has Soviet support for its territorial claims, and the Soviet Union is arming Somalia.

The position of Somalia is that wherever people speak Somalian they belong to Somalia. We respond that this is a problem for all of Africa as a result of boundaries drawn by the colonial powers. Therefore, African states have agreed to recognize the existing borders. Somalia is the only one that has not agreed to this formula. We have offered to provisionally demarcate the boundary under UN auspices. Somalia has refused, and is being armed to a dangerous extent. They have air bases, naval bases, and communication bases.

South Yemen has declared the Straits are Yemini territorial waters.

Somalia has claimed Djibouti. Most of the tribes are Ethiopian and the territory has traditionally been Ethiopian.

They have many more tanks. We have 20; they have 200. In APC's, we have 54; they have 310. We have no radar, they have a radar system. Our air forces is over age; they have seven MIG-21's and ten IL-28's. As for anti-aircraft batteries, we have 24 and they have 170. We have no rocket launchers and they have 24.

This is a deliberate policy of the Soviet Union to retard Ethiopia's development and force it to change its foreign policy.

Peace in the area has been maintained by Ethiopia. We are not an aggressive country. Our country is big; distances make things different. This change in the balance of power endangers peace because our security is threatened. If we suffer defeat and humiliation, it will be bad and it will also hurt American interests.

There are sabotage and probing actions by Somalia.

What would be the consequences of aggression? Some Arab states would aid Somalia. Two-three thousand Soviet Union advisors would be directing the battle against us with the latest weapons.

It used to be said that Ethiopia was superior; now it is different. We can't use our whole force against Somalia and they have all these modern weapons. We do not know the position of the United States in case of this kind of attack. Do we have contingency plans? What are your views? We propose emergency support for Ethiopia to restore the balance quickly.

Subsequently we have plans to strengthen our forces over the coming years.

It is true this hardware would impose a burden on us, but we can survive and it is important. We are really asking for replacements for aircraft and tanks to replace obsolescent ones. Therefore, the burden on Ethiopia is not unbearable, and our people are prepared for this burden.

I am sorry to burden you with this, but we have nowhere else to go. This is a real danger which is being built up.


The President: We do share the same objectives in Africa ever since I can remember.


We have great difficulty with Congress with aid. We will again ask Congress for a substantial appropriation, but I must honestly say to you that getting it will be difficult. We are also making provisions for credit assistance in order to make up for this.

I will consider this very seriously, and to the extent I can get Congress to support, I will respond to your requests.

Ethiopia is a proud, peaceful country. Ever since 1935. It would be a tragedy if Ethiopia was subjected to new aggression. I will take up this matter when I meet with Brezhnev.

We cannot afford conflicts with the USSR over such areas of such value as the regions of the Middle East.

I have no easy answers for President Sadat. I appreciate His Majesty's acting as a friend of the court. Egypt and Israel are far apart. I will keep His Majesty's message in mind as we proceed.

I share His Majesty's concern. I will analyze all requests with a sympathetic view. I can't promise, because of the Congress, but America is with you to the extent that I can speak for Americans.

Selassie: I thank you, Mr. President, for the kind words. I know the United States has problems throughout the world, with development, with other nations, etc. The magnitude of the problem varies in different areas.


I decided to come here to tell you of the problems in the Horn of Africa because of the growing problems, and the fact that aggression against Ethiopia is a Soviet policy. Escalation of action against Ethiopia is a definite policy.

I accept what you have said, that you would consider the sympathetically to support me. I don't ask for an answer now, but just to remind you of these developments, our needs, etc.


The Soviet Union knows our relationship. They are exerting serious pressure on our people to change our policy.

Not only the Soviet Union, but the Communist associates of the Soviet Union. We have only limited association with the Soviet Union. Our loan of 15 years ago is not fully used. We are on friendly terms with The Soviet Union but we are facing the Soviet Union. This has been forced on the United States.

In February of next year, as the State Department's the Bureau of Intelligence and Research reported

Large numbers of Ethiopian enlisted men, NCO's, and some junior officers in the 46,000-man armed forces have mutinied, originally for economic redress, but now for political aims, and this has led to the resignation of the government. Asmara, Massawa, and other towns in Eritrea are under the mutineers' control. They have arrested senior military and civilian officials and secured key points, and may have taken hostage the Emperor's negotiating delegation, led by the army chief of staff. The mutineers' attempt to rally military units in other parts of the country is succeeding: air force NCO's seized the Debre Zeit base near Addis Ababa, and in the south units at Dire Dawa and Harar are reportedly supporting the Asmara elements.


Of the four Ethiopian army divisions, the most disgruntled has been the Second Division in Eritrea. Bogged down in a frustrating struggle with insurgents of the Eritrean Liberation Front, the division's troops have been severely critical of the incompetence of their commanding general and provincial governor. Heavy losses suffered by the division in a recent pitched battle with the ELF probably contributed to morale problems. ... A week of strikes and demonstrations by teachers, students, and cab drivers—concentrated in Addis Ababa—preceded the mutinies. Inflationary pressures, which throughout 1973 reduced the real income of these economically insecure groups in the modern sector, intensified in January when fuel costs rose sharply. When violence broke out during the strikes, the police and military restored order, at a cost of several dead and numerous injured. The government moved to end continuing public unrest: it reduced gasoline prices, put price controls on essential goods, and took teacher pay demands under advisement. Most importantly, the government raised military pay and allowances, but not enough to appease enlisted men.

... The cabinet has already resigned. The Emperor himself does not appear to be threatened; some military elements, however, may try to limit his powers. In doing so, the mutineers face a dilemma: no credible successor is at hand. Both the ailing Crown Prince and his son, Zara Yacob, are in Europe, and for different reasons, neither is ready or able to replace His Imperial Majesty. ...

Implication for the United States.

The close military relationship which the US has maintained with Ethiopia for almost three decades will come into question even though American military advisers will presumably succeed in keeping out of the present troubles. The remaining units at Kagnew Station in Eritrea remain unmolested, and should be able to remain uninvolved. The Ethiopian authorities may see the United States as potentially helpful in furnishing emergency economic (or military) assistance, to get the government over the acute phase of its difficulties. All courses of action pose potential problems for the US, since it may be substantially more difficult to deal with the new ruling groups that may emerge in control of the Ethiopian Government.

This information was updated by CIA in October

Ethiopia's creeping revolution—now some 8 months old— has not yet unfolded to the point where we can speak with confidence about the nature of the successor regime or the policies that will eventually take shape. Thus far, a single leader has not taken stage center and dominated the revolution; factions within the military are still locked in struggle to capture command of the revolution that is largely being played out away from public view.
With the deposition last month of Haile Selassie the military emerged as the undisputed center of supreme political authority in Ethiopia. The ruling armed forces, however, are divided within their own ranks and are not yet able to provide coherent leadership.

The political change set in motion by the military revolt is irreversible. The old order based on position, wealth, and family connections has been destroyed.
The military has, however, created expectation of further significant change, and has made numerous promises of specific new policies. At this time, the basic goals of the Armed Forces Coordinating Committee appear to be:

— Complete destruction of the feudal social order and an end to the local domination by the provincial elite. This is to be accomplished mainly by land reform and by the enactment of new laws altering the relationship between tenant and landlord.

— A reordering of economic priorities to give emphasis to improving the lot of the less affluent. The committee wants active government encouragement of economic development and plans a larger direct economic role for the government.

— A commitment to the establishment of constitutional government.

— Maintenance of Ethiopia's present boundaries, combined with the introduction of a measure of political decentralization for the country's diverse ethnic and regional groups. The new leaders clearly will not tolerate separatism, however.

Members of the coordinating committee, while endorsing these broad goals, differ on the pace and method of change. A constant shifting of alliances, both within and between the units represented on the committee, complicates the task of defining the various factions. A basic division, however, has emerged between a majority group with essentially moderate objectives, which so far has commanded majority support within the committee, and a more radically-inclined minority group.

Although the moderates are united generally on matters of public policy, there are tensions among them stemming from porsonal rivalries, ethnic and regional differences, and military unit loyalties. These animosities, even if they do not lead to an open split, will continue to drain much of the committee's energies and reduce its ability to direct effectively the country's affairs.

The radicals on the committee want an immediate return to civilian rule and the reshaping of Ethiopian society along socialist lines, together with abolition of the monarchy and harsh punishment of Haile Selassie and the imprisoned aristocrats. Advocates of Maoism, communism, ”African Socialism,” or the "Tanzanian model" can be found on the committee. At a minimum, the radicals—found mostly in the air force—want their civilian allies in the university and labor unions to have an important role in the government. Although unable so far to dominate the committee, the radicals are vocal and aggressive in pushing their demands, and they could cause considerable trouble. Their opinions therefore have to be taken into account.

AMAN is the front man for the coordinating committee, which picked him to be titular leader of the provisional military government because he is personally magnetic and popular with the ranks. He has drawn large and enthusiastic crowds during travels throughout Ethiopia, but in private meetings with the cabinet and other officials he shows deference toward the coordinating committee representative who almost always accompanies him. There have been reports of antagonism between AMAN and members of the committee; AMAN no doubt chafes at times at taking orders from his juniors, but right now he does not seem to be engaged in an outright contest for power with the committee. In recent public statements AMAN has strongly criticized those who attempt to create disunity—-the same line taken by the committee.
The Separatist Threat

During the old regime, Haile Selassie was fairly successful in submerging regional and tribal differences, with the exception of the separatist movement in Eritrea. General AMAN and the Armed Forces Coordinating Committee are acutely, sensitive to the possibility that these differences could come to the fore in the present period of instability. The military government is thus seeking to defuse such trouble spots.

In the case of the most pressing of these problems, Eritrea, the Ethiopian military and the separatist Eritrean Liberation Front seem headed toward negotiations, with the Sudanese government perhaps undertaking a role as intermediary.

Last month the military committee adopted a more accommodating position toward Eritrea and named new provincial officials to replace unpopular appointees of the old regime. The committee, of course, is unwilling to grant the province independence, and also seems unlikely to agree to a federation proposal made by some Front members. Negotiations, once begun, will almost certainly be prolonged. At present it seems likely that the ELF faction which is more prone to accept compromise will eventually join with traditional, non-ELF provincial leaders and reach some agreement with the government. The more radical ELF members will probably continue terrorist activities, but they will be more susceptible to army counterpressure.

There is a possibility that the separatist movement will develop. The Tigre are second only to the Amhara tribe in Ethiopia's traditional hierarchy of ethnic groups. Ras Mengesha Seyoum, the Tigre leader, and one of Ethiopias most powerful aristocrats, remains at large. The committee only last week issued an order for his arrest, accusing him of corruption and of trying to organize an insurrection.

The committee delayed taking action against Mengasha because it recognized that Mengesha had a better chance than the other noblemen of organizing armed resistance. Mengesha has been one of the more progressive members of the aristocracy, and as governor general of Tigre had made a conscious effort to improve living conditions for the local population. As a result, he was generally popular, and is believed to retain many loyal followers. His present whereabouts is unknown; there are some reports he has fled to Sudan. There are also reports that several thousand armed men have joined him. Although this number may be exaggerated, Mengesha could cause considerable problems for the military if he decided to lead a revolt.

The Galla tribe is another potential source of dissidence. The Galia are the largest single ethnic group in Ethiopia, but many of them are dispersed throughout the country. Separatist sentiment is felt most keenly among the large number of Galla concentrated in an area south of Addis Ababa. This group carried out an insurgency against the government from 1965-1970,and they might believe this is an advantageous time to renew their activities.

Any separatist moves by the Tigre or Calla would probably first take the form of sporadic violence and isolated attacks on government installations. The unity of the armed forces will be a major factor in determining the success of such movements. If the military avoids irreconcilable splits in its own ranks, it will probably be able to prevent large-scale organized resistance. The inauguration of land reform would also reduce the chances of peasants joining a rebellion.

Concern about Somalia

The military government's major regional worry is that neighboring Somalia has a military edge and might try to grab the Ogaden region inhabited by ethnic Somalis. The long-stnding feaar of Somali irredentism was a major factor in Addis Ababa's recent request that the US increase military grants and credits to cover the purchase of arms in lieu of cash sales previously authorized.

Mogadiscio will be on the watch for signs that the preparedness of Ethiopian forces in the Ogaden had deteriorated to such an extent that Somalia could seize a sizable portion of territory in a quick action and hold it against an Ethiopian counter-attack and the ensuing international diplomatic pressures. We do not believe, however, that Somalia will move against the Ogaden area unless thore is serious disorder in Ethiopia.

The Somalis have indicated they do not intend to take advantage of Ethiopia's preoccupation with internal affairs to interfere in the Ogaden. Thus far, Somali President Siad had adhered to this pledge. A breakdown in law and order in Ethiopia, however, would be likely to tempt the Somalis at least to support gnerrilla activity across the Ethiopian border. The Somalis realize that an outright attack by their regular forces would probably unify the Ethiopians.

The coordinating committee may hope to reach an accomodation with Somalia, but at best the Somalis are only likely to agree to a mutual thinning out of military units in the area and stricter observance of a neutral zone along the border. The Ethiopians would probably view this as buying time. They might view their military requirements in less alarmist terms, but their search for more arms would continue.

Foreign Relations

The Armed Forces Coordinating Cormittee has thus far been able to give relatively little attention to foreign relations, being preoccupied with ousting the old order and now engaged in infighting for control of the revolution. We surmise, however, that the military's use of the slogan "Ethiopia First" has implications for foreign policy as well as emphasizing the need for domestic reforms.
We know that the Ethiopians have already made inquiries to the Soviet Union about aid. Moscow has indicated a willingness to provide Ethiopia with some military assistance, but Soviet officials have been very cautious. They have requested that detailed studies of Ethiopian needs be provided and said te Soviets woald provide aid at levels "permitted bv Soviet resources.” Mosocw's diffidence stems in part from its reluctance to offend Somalia and thereby jeopardize Soviet access to military facilities there.

The fact that the Soviets have not flatly turned down the Ethiopians suggests that Moscow thinks it can have it both ways in East Africa—as long as it does not give the Ethiopians too much.

Addis Ababa is seeking more military aid because it believes Soviet arms deliveries to Somalia have given Mogadiscio the military edge. The Ethiopians are also trying to use their dialogue with Moscow to gain leverage in dealings with the US for military aid.

In Nov. 1975, an Interagency Intelligence Memorandum reported that "some element of the military will continue to dominate the power structure, probably still identified as the Provisional Military Advisory Council (PMAC)"

Within its own heartland, the government faces major problems, notably rural dissidence, which we believe will grow and greatly tax the government's capacity to govern outside the major administrative centers. Urban discontent will cause trouble too.

Meanwhile, there is no sign whatever of a flagging of Eritrean insurgent determination to fight on. The two liberation groups, the Eritrean Liberation Front and the Popular Liberation Forces, may not unite any time soon, but they have generally ceased fighting one another and have engaged in limited military cooperation. Current tactics suggest that both groups are likely to pose continuing threats to US citizens and installations. Now that the guerrillas are carrying the burden of a full-scale insurgency, they are even less inclined than in the past to take guidance from their political representatives abroad. Yet only the latter show any willingness to treat independence as a negotiable issue. We believe the war will go on.

The task of the Ethiopian military is further complicated by the necessity of guarding the Ogaden region and the ethnic Somalis who live there against frontal attack or subversion by Somalia, which claims the territory. It must also keep an eye on those other border straddlers, the Afars, whose traditional leader, now in exile, is attempting to assist the limited Afar insurgency through arms shipments via the French Territory of Afars and Issas (FTAI). We do not believe Somalia will attempt to seize the Ogaden by force in 1975-76, barring a complete breakdown of order in the Ethiopian armed forces, but we anticipate intermittent Somali encouragement of Ogadeni dissidence.


The USSR's commitment to Mogadiscio limits its maneuverability in dealing with the PMAC, and as long as all goes well in Soviet-Somali relations, there are not likely to be any departures in the Soviets' approach to Ethiopia.



1. Since September 1974 Ethiopia has been governed by the Provisional Military Administrative Council, composed of junior officers- and enlisted men who are bent on a radical restructuring of society. The Council has managed to destroy the political and economic power of the former ruling classes-to the point that no successor regime could completely restore it—-and is trying to establish a new egalitarian order.

2. But the forced pace of change-involving the abolition of the monarchy, the declaration of Ethiopian socialism, the nationalization of most of the modern economy, and land reform-has alienated both elites and peasants. Rebellions are going on in all of the country's 14 provinces, and some regions are completely outside central government control. Rural dissidence will continue to grow, and at some point the PMAC may control only the major administrative centers, vital agricultural areas, and transportation arteries. Efforts to put down these revolts, to combat the long-standing insurgency in Eritrea, and to guard the Ogaden borders against Somalia have badly strained military capabilities.

3. Despite widespread opposition to PMAC rule, however, no group appears at this time to have the organization and leadership to overthrow the Council. The most likely scenario is a shift of power within the PMAC itself.

Military Cleavages

6. The major threat to the PMAC is the lack of cohesiveness within the military establishment. The Council is led by junior officers who have come up through the ranks and who have so far been able to hold the allegiance of troops who have been steadily politicized since the initial mutinies in February 1974. The chain of command has never been completely reestablished, and indiscipline is rife. Many senior officers appear to be slated for retirement.

7. The enlisted-man majority on the PMAC has provided crucial support to the present leadership, but at the same time it has slowed decision-making and reinforced extremist tendencies within the Council. An attempt is under way to phase the enlisted men out through assignments abroad or to other government posts. Resentment on their part over the reorganization may lead them to conspire against the PMAC officers or to back a group of officers willing to curry favor with them.

8. Personal rivalries and policy disagreements continue to divide the PMAC officers. The most intensive rivalry has been between the two vice chairmen-Major Mengistu Haile-Mariam and Lt. Col. Atnafu Abate. Both are committed to revolutionary change, but differ on the methods of achieving it. Of the two, Atnafu is supposed to be more opportunistic and anti-US.

9. According to recent reports, a group of Council members, led by General Teferi Benti, the Council's chairman, has gained influence at the expense of Mengistu and Atnafu who seem to have lost some power, though both remain members of the PMAC and retain their titles. The Teferi group reportedly regarded the Mengistu-Atnafu leadership as too radical and too disruptive of military unity. The power struggle within the Council may not be fully resolved. If Teferi is able to consolidate his power, he will probably moderate some of the Council's coercive and unpopular policies.
The Eritrean Insurgency

14. The most serious provincial dissidence is the Eritrean insurgency, which over the past year has burgeoned into a war between more than 20,000 Ethiopian troops and approximately 10,000 insurgents, not all of whom are armed. The rebels are backed by most of the province's civilian population. The administration of martial law continues to be carried out in ruthless, repressive fashion. Frequent sweep operations, food rationing, and strict control of transportation have been successful in keeping the insurgents off balance. Still, heavy engagements occur sporadically, and both sides have incurred fairly heavy casualties. The insurgents' major military objective seems to be an attempt to cut the Ethiopians' long and exposed supply lines.

15. The two insurgent factions-the Eritrean Liberation Front ( ELF) and the Popular Liberation Forces (PLF)-have stopped fighting each other and have engaged in limited military cooperation against the Ethiopians. Their political leaders abroad have agreed to form joint committees to coordinate the two groups' activities, and they are making plans to hold a general conference to discuss complete unification. Real political union, however, does not appear to be imminent. The unification effort is supported by the ELF military command, but opposed by the PLF military command led by Isaias Afework.
24. The Ogaden. Barring a complete breakdown in order in the Ethiopian armed forces, Somali President SIAD probably will not try to seize the Ogaden by force during the next year or so. SIAD may not be confident that his armed forces are capable of taking and holding any significant amount of Ethiopian territory at this time, and an attack that failed could cost him his position as head of the Supreme Revolutionary Council. Over the longer term, however, Somali military capabilities will gradually improve as a result of Soviet assistance, while those of Ethiopia will continue to be degraded as a result of the Eritrean insurgency. SIAD probably believes that time is on Somalia's side. There is a tantalizing possibility that Ethiopia will fracture solely due to internal forces, while a premature external attack would likely provide a rallying point which could reverse the current decline of central government control. A conflict at this time would probably stimulate more external support to Ethiopia and could jeopardize much-needed outside assistance to Somalia.
32. The USSR. The PMAC is probably disappointed by the lack of Soviet response to its feelers for military aid. The Soviets welcome the erosion of US influence in Ethiopia and may cultivate pro-Soviet Ethiopian groups with an eye to a possibly greater role in the future. But the overriding Soviet concern is to avoid hostilities in the Horn that could lead to a polarization of forces and jeopardize access to its military facilities in Somalia. Therefore, Moscow seems resigned to continue US military aid to the PMAC, since the aid maintains a rough parity between Ethiopian and Somali armed forces and thus helps to dissuade the Mogadiscio government from an attack on the Ogaden. Moreover, Soviet influence and pressure have been exerted in varying degrees on Peoples Democratic Republic of Yemen (PDRY), Somalia, and Iraq to reduce their support of the Eritrean insurgents. These efforts presumably reflect Soviet concern that a breaking up of the Ethiopian state would almost certainly be followed by armed conflict. For the foreseeable future, the USSR will probably continue to assign greater value to its convenient and relatively inexpensive Somali facilities than to a closer relationship with an unstable Ethiopian regime.

On January 9, 1976 the Defense Intelligence Agency said

In East Africa, Somalia is the main center of Soviet activity. This country, which has received $165 million in military equipment since 1961, is Moscow's single largest military investment in sub-Saharan Africa. Soviet military advisors have increased from 300 in 1972 to the current number of 1,000 in 1974. The USSR is continuing the development of facilities in the Berbera area for both Somali and Soviet use, and Soviet naval reconnaissance aircraft operating from Somali airfields, including the one under construction at Berbera, give Moscow the potential to cover the entire Indian Ocean area. Substantial Soviet military assistance to Uganda and recent initiatives in Tanzania have also enhanced Moscow's presence in East Africa.

to be continued

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