A Sea of
THE ORGANIZATION OF AFRICAN UNITY, while recognizing the flagrant inequities of the continent's imperial legacy, also understood that once the principle of tribal and ethnic integrity was accepted, revolts would erupt everywhere. Better to assent to an unsatisfactory situation than to an intolerable one. It was a position the Somalis could not accept. During the last week of July 1977, with the larger part of the Ethiopian land forces tied down in Eritrea, Mohammed Siad Barre ordered a major offensive in the Ogaden. He disguised the invasion by permitting thousands of his troops to "resign" and then take up arms "voluntarily" on the other side of the internationally recognized border. The poorly trained, uninspired Ethiopians, enervated by Mengistu's purges of their officers, fell back in disarray, leaving behind their weapons and equipment. By early August the Somalis had cut the rail line to Djibouti and captured more than a hundred towns. By the end of September they controlled most of the Ogaden—nearly a third of Ethiopia's national territory, and other ethnic groups had begun to take up arms against the Marxist regime. The government in Addis Ababa teetered on the edge of disaster.
Mengistu decreed a national mobilization of the Ethiopian people, and he flew once again to Moscow and to Havana to plead for more-tangible assistance. Within days Raúl Castro was in the Soviet capital with a number of his generals to coordinate the airlifting of Cuban troops. Having alienated the Somalis by failing to support their aspirations for unification, the Soviets faced the prospect of losing a valuable foothold on the Horn of Africa. They justified their direct intervention on the grounds that the Somalis, by invading the Ogaden, were clearly the aggressors. For the Soviet