The Ethiopian army's origins and military traditions span back through the nation's long history. Due to Ethiopia's location at the crossroads between the Middle East and Africa; which have placed it in the middle of East and Western politics, its army has been tested for many centuries from foreign aggression. From the Egyptian aggression to Ottoman invasion, to the European invasion and concerns from the 21st century global war on terror, the country has tackled several foreign aggression through out its history. Ethiopia was able to drive back Egyptian and Ottoman invasions decisively and its modern military history generally dates from its response to the European colonial expansion of the 19th century during the Scramble for Africa; during which it maintained its independence by defeating the army of the Kingdom of Italy in the First Italo–Ethiopian War.
The Battle of Adowa (also known as Adwa or sometimes by the Italian name Adua) is the best known victory of Ethiopian forces over these invaders, confirming Ethiopia's existence as an independent state. Fought on 1 March, 1896 against the Kingdom of Italy near the town of Adwa, it was the decisive battle of the First Italo–Ethiopian War. Assisted by all of the major nobles of Ethiopia -- including Negus Tekle Haymanot of Gojjam, Ras Makonnen, Ras Mengesha Yohannes, and Ras Mikael of Wollo -- Emperor Menelek II of Ethiopia not only struck a powerful blow against the Italians, but also to contemporary racial prejudices. In the words of historian Bahru Zewde, "It was a victory of blacks over whites. Adwa thus anticipated by almost a decade the equally shattering experience to the whites of the Japanese victory over Russia in 1905.
Modernization of the army took place under the regency of Tafari Mekonnen, who later reigned as Emperor Haile Selassie I. He created an Imperial Bodyguard in 1917 from the earlier mahal safari that had traditionally attended the Ethiopian Emperor; its elite were trained at the French military academy at Saint-Cyr or by Belgian military advisers. He also created his own military school at Holeta in January 1935.
However, these efforts were not sufficient nor instituted in enough time to stop the rising tide of Italian fascism. Ethiopia lost its independence in the Italian invasion of Ethiopia of 1935-36. The country regained its independence after the 1941 East African Campaign of World War II with the intervention of forces from the British Commonwealth.
In keeping with the principle of collective security, for which Haile Selassie was an outspoken proponent, Ethiopia sent a contingent under General Mulugueta Bulli, known as the Kagnew Battalion, to take part in the UN Conflict in Korea. It was attached to the American 7th Infantry Division, and fought in a number of engagements including the Battle of Pork Chop Hill. 3,518 Ethiopian troops served in the war; they lost 121 killed and 536 wounded during the conflict in Korea.
When the Derg gained control of Ethiopia, they shifted their source for the equipment, organization and training away from Western European and American governments towards those of the Soviet Union and other Comecon countries, especially Cuba.
During this period, Ethiopian forces were often locked in counter-insurgency campaigns against various guerrilla groups. They honed both conventional and guerrilla tactics during campaigns in Eritrea, and the Ethiopian Civil War that toppled Ethiopian former military dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam in 1991 and also by repelling an invasion launched by Somalia in the 1977–1978 Ogaden War.
The Ethiopian army grew considerably during this time under the Derg (1974–1987), and the People's Democratic Republic of Ethiopia under the dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam (1987–1991), especially during the latter regime. Estimated forces under arms increased dramatically:
Cuba provided a significant influx of military advisors and troops over this period, with the largest escalation during the Ogaden War with Somalia, supported by a Soviet airlift:
By 1991, the Ethiopian army under Mengistu had grown in size, but the regime was overcome by the People's Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ, former EPLF), Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) and other factions. The People's Militia had also grown to about 200,000 members. The mechanized forces of the army comprised 1,200 T-54/55, 100 T-62 tanks, and 1,100 armored personnel carriers (APCs), but readiness was estimated to only be about 30% operational because of the withdrawal of financial support, lack of maintenance expertise and parts from the Soviet Union, Cuba and other nations.
Army commands consisted of the following:
To these armies were assigned the operational forces of the army, comprising:
Since the fall of Mengistu, the Ethiopian army under the EPRDF has been called into service fighting continuing counter-insurgency campaigns, and also fought to a stalemate in the 1998-2000 Ethiopian-Eritrean War, and drove the Islamic Courts Union out of Somalia in the War in Somalia.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union, and with the rise of radical Islamism, Ethiopia again turned to the Western powers for alliance and assistance. After the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the Ethiopian army began to train with US forces based out of the Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) established in Djibouti, in counterterrorism and counterinsurgency. Ethiopia allowed the US to station military advisors at Camp Hurso. Part of the training at Camp Hurso has included U.S. Army elements, including 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry, training the 12th, 13th and 14th Division Reconnaissance Companies, which from July 2003 were being formed into a new Ethiopian anti-terrorism battalion.
The modern ENDF has a wide mix of equipment. It does not produce its own weapons, so all arms must be imported. It has used its position to act as a reseller of arms to other African nations, such as Burundi and Somalia. Many of its major weapons systems stem from the Communist era and are of Soviet and Eastern bloc design.
The United States was Ethiopia's major arms supplier from the end of World War II until 1977, when Ethiopia began receiving massive arms shipments from the Soviet Union. These shipments, including armored patrol boats, transport and jet fighter aircraft, helicopters, tanks, trucks, missiles, artillery, and small arms have incurred an unserviced Ethiopian debt to the former Soviet Union estimated at more than $3.5 billion.
Since 1991, there remains a continuing influx of arms from former Eastern bloc countries (Russia, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Hungary), yet also increasing use of Western equipment (US, Germany, UK, and France), and purchases from Israel and China.
Helicopters: 8 Mil Mi-6 Hook, 14 Mil Mi-14 Haze, 14 Mil Mi-17 Hip-H, 15 Mil Mi-24 Hind, 3 Aérospatiale SA-316 Alouette III, and 4 Aérospatiale SA-330 Puma.
Fighter aircraft: 21 Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbed, 18 Sukhoi Su-27 Flanker.
Ground attack Aircraft: 32 Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-23BN Flogger-F, and 4 Sukhoi Su-25 Frogfoot.
Cargo aircraft:Antonov An-2 Colt, Antonov An-12 Cub, Antonov An-26 Curl, Antonov An-32 Cline, and 3 Lockheed C-130 Hercules.
Trainer aircraft: 5 Aermacchi SF.260TP and 14 Aero L-39 Albatros.
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