Prior to the Ogaden War, Somalia had been allied with the Soviet Union, and its relations with the United States were strained.
As chaos spread throughout Ethiopia after Haile Selassie's downfall, Somalia increased its support to several pro-Somali liberation groups in the Ogaden region of Ethiopia. After the Somali government committed Army troops to the Ogaden, the conflict ceased to be a guerrilla action and assumed the form of a conventional war in which armor, mechanized infantry, and air power played decisive roles. By mid-September 1977, Ethiopia conceded that 90 percent of the Ogaden was in Somali hands.
The Soviet Union's decision to abandon Somalia in favor of Ethiopia eventually turned the tide of battle in the Ogaden. From October 1977 through January 1978, about 20,000 Somali guerrillas and troops pressed attacks on Harer, where nearly 50,000 Ethiopians had regrouped, backed by Soviet-supplied armor and artillery and gradually reinforced by 11,000 Cubans and 1,500 Soviet advisers. As expected, in early February 1978 Ethiopian and Cuban forces launched a two-stage counterattack. Within a week, Ethiopia had retaken all of the Ogaden's major towns, and on March 9, 1978, Somali forces were recalled from Ethiopia.
American interests in the region derived from the strategic location of the Horn of Africa on the Suez and Cape oil routes. The prospect of the Soviets dominating both Somalia and Ethiopia created considerable political concern in the United States, although the crisis for the US was one of confidence rather than one of substance. Carter's National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski went so far as to declare that "SALT lies buried in the sands of the Ogaden", signifying the death of détente. In late February 1978, surface ships from MIDEASTFOR began surveillance operations of the Somali invasion of the Ogaden region of Ethiopia. Following the collapse of the Somali army in the Ogaden, the Kitty Hawk CVBG was ordered to a holding point north of Singapore. Brzezinski advocated sending an aircraft carrier battle group into the Red Sea to shore up the Somali position. On 23 March 1978 the Kitty Hawk CVBG was released without having been sent into the Indian Ocean. The actual deployment of the group of small warships in the Red Sea remained an expressive display of force unproductive of identifiable advantage.
Largely because the Soviet Union sided with Ethiopia in the Ogaden War, a United States-Somali rapprochement began in 1977 and culminated in a military access agreement in 1980 that permitted the United States to use naval ports and airfields at Berbera, Chisimayu, and Mogadishu, in exchange for military and economic aid.
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