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Insurgency in Ethiopia's Ogaden

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Conflict in Ogaden

The Background

The Ogaden region was conquered by the Ethiopian Empire in the middle of the 19th century, making it a buffer zone between the state and expanding European interests in the region. Unlike the rest of Ethiopia it is populated by the Ogadeni people, a subgroup of Somalis.

For most of its history under Ethiopian administration Ogaden was regarded as an inhospitable land, inhabited by uncivilized people who did not adhere to Christianity.

Isolated military garrisons were erected through the land, exacting taxes from the local herders.

In 1936, Italy annexed Ethiopia in the aftermath of the Second Italo-Ethiopian War, integrating Ogaden into Italian Somalia and thus creating an ethnically homogenous Greater Somalia.

In 1941, Britain defeated Italian East Africa, later installing a military administration of its own.

The reunification of Ogaden with Somalia as well as the advocacy of British foreign minister Ernest Bevin for the creation of a Greater Somalian state forged what later came to be Somalian nationalism.

Hopes of a unified Somalian state were not put into practice as Ogaden was gradually reincorporated into Ethiopia between 1948-1954.

Somalia then began to sponsor Western Somali Liberation Front and the Somali Abo Liberation Front, armed separatist factions operating within Ethiopia.

The 1969 and 1974 Coup d'etats in Somalia and Ethiopia respectively led to an unsuccessful Somalian invasion of Ogaden.

Ethiopia emerged victorious from the war, turning Ogaden into a militarized zone and conducting population transfers in order to quell any signs of sedition.

In the meantime the Eritrean People's Liberation Front and the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front overthrew the Ethiopian Derg dictatorship, leading to a period of political instability.

The Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front assumed power by creating a coalition of ethno-nationalist movements from across the country, choosing the previously marginalised Ogaden National Liberation Front as its ally in Ogaden.

ONLF's previously exiled leadership returned from exile, gaining the support of local population. Eritrea attained independence in the aftermath of the Eritrean War of Independence, inspiring ONLF to pursue a similar goal for Ogaden.

In January 1993, ONLF candidate Abdillahi Mohammed Sadi was elected Somali Regional president by receiving 70% of the votes, Sadi was however sacked by Tigray People's Liberation Front officials seven months later creating a power vacuum.

Tensions between the TPLF and ONLF escalated in 1994, as ONLF split into a moderate wing willing to cooperate with TPLF and a radical secessionist wing led by Ibrahim Abdallah Mah that initiated armed struggle.

The outbreak of the conflict soon attracted the attention of jihadist elements in the region. The Somali militant group Al-Itihaad al-Islamiya, established a training camp in Luuq, while portraying the war as a clash of Christianity and Islam.

Its Ogaden wing later conducted a series of attacks on major Ethiopian cities. Osama bin Laden described Ogaden as place where Muslims were oppressed by a "Judeo-Christian alliance" during his 1996 declaration of jihad against the United States.

Al-Qaeda agents had previously infiltrated Ogaden, investing $3 million in smuggling foreign fighters into the region.

Fighters from Turkey, Bosnia, Egypt, France, Gambia and other countries joined the conflict taking part in 35 engagements between June - July 1996.

However, Islamist involvement in the war fell into obscurity after three successful government operations against Al-Itihaad al-Islamiya, that took place on 9 August 1996, 20 December 1996 and January 1997.

Bin Laden's relocation from Sudan to Afghanistan also shifted Al-Qaeda's focus from the region.

The Battle

On 20 December 1996, Ethiopian troops perpetrated a cross border raid on an Al-Itihaad al-Islamiya camp in Luuq, killing over 58 militants including 48 foreign volunteers.

On 13 April 2003, ONLF initiated the Operation Mandad, aiming the expulsion of government troops from the districts of Korahey and Dolo.

Two days later a battle took place in the towns of Alen and Garas Qalo, security forces suffered 60 fatalities and lost 2 army trucks, 41 rebels were also killed in the fighting.

Authorities responded by imposing curfews on the towns of Kebri Dehar, Warder, and Shilabo, 36 suspected militants were also arrested.

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