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US Facilities in Ethiopia

On May 22, 1953, the United States and Ethiopia concluded an agreement that gave the United States a twenty-five-year lease on the Kagnew communications station in Asmera. At the time, Kagnew was one of the largest radio relay and communications monitoring stations in the world. The United States later developed its facilities, which were manned by 4,000 American military personnel, to monitor Soviet radio communications throughout the region. The two countries also signed a Mutual Defense Assistance Agreement, whereby the United States pledged to provide US$5 million to equip and train three 6,000-member Ethiopian divisions. A United States Military Assistance Advisory Group (MAAG) was sent to Ethiopia to administer this program.

By March 31, 1954, the United States had delivered US$3.8 million worth of small arms, vehicles, and artillery to Ethiopia. In October 1954, Washington granted another US$5 million in aid to Ethiopia; and in November 1955, the United States Joint Chiefs of Staff agreed that Addis Ababa needed a minimum of US$5 million a year in military assistance supplemented by the direct sale of air force and naval equipment. Despite these increases, the Ethiopian government complained that this military aid was insufficient to satisfy its defense needs. In early 1956, Addis Ababa therefore appealed to Washington for "a combination of grants and long-term military credits to support the country's defense needs," which included the suppression of Eritrean dissenters. In October 1956, the United States National Security Council responded to this request by issuing a report that included a recommendation that United States assistance to Ethiopia be increased.

After 1960--a year in which Washington promised to provide support for a 40,000-member Ethiopian army--United States military aid to Ethiopia gradually increased. In the 1960s, at the peak of United States involvement, more than 300 American personnel were serving in the MAAG. In addition, nearly 23,000 Ethiopian service personnel, including at least twenty who subsequently became members of the Derg, received advanced training directly from United States personnel. About 4,000 of these troops were trained at facilities in the United States, Mengistu Haile Mariam among them. By 1974 Ethiopia's armed forces had become totally dependent on the United States for military hardware and spare parts.

United States assistance initially continued without interruption after the overthrow of Haile Selassie in 1974, although it was accompanied by proposals for a negotiated settlement in Eritrea. After the execution of a large number of high-ranking officals of the imperial regime in November 1974, the United States postponed the signing of a pending aid agreement, but shipments of aircraft and tanks doubled the dollar value of military assistance in 1975. Citing the "arms imbalance in the region" resulting from Soviet aid to Somalia, Washington proposed to update Ethiopia's arms inventory over a three-year period by turning over US$200 million worth of surplus matériel originally designated for the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam). The United States also authorized the transfer of an F-5 fighter aircraft squadron from Iran to Ethiopia. Total United States arms sales to Ethiopia in 1974 and 1975 amounted to US$35 million.

During 1976, tensions developed between Washington and Addis Ababa over the ongoing Military Assistance Program. The Derg rejected a new Foreign Military Sales (FMS) credit agreement because Washington had imposed a higher interest rate. The Ethiopian government also complained about delays in arms delivery schedules in the face of growing Soviet military assistance to Somalia. Meanwhile, the United States refused to approve a US$60 million program to replace equipment lost in Eritrea. Despite the growing rift, a United States Department of State official testifying before a congressional committee characterized the Ethiopian government as "not systematically or intrinsically anti U.S."

The first significant shift in relations between the two countries came in December 1976, when a Derg delegation headed by Mengistu visited Moscow and concluded an arms agreement with the Soviet Union valued at US$385 million that was designed to end Washington's virtual monopoly on arms supplies to Ethiopia. Then, in testimony before a congressional committee in February 1977, United States secretary of state Cyrus Vance recommended a cessation of grant military assistance to Ethiopia because of Addis Ababa's human rights violations. (Grant military assistance represented only a small portion of the Military Assistance Program, which totaled US$26 million in United States fiscal year 1976 and was scheduled to total US$62 million in United States fiscal year 1977. These figures contrasted with an annual average of US$10 million in military assistance to the imperial regime.) The United States also informed the Derg in February that it intended to reduce the size of the United States military mission and to close the Kagnew communications station, where activities already were being phased out, by the end of September 1977.

As a result of these actions, the Ethiopian government, believing that all United States military assistance eventually would be eliminated, responded in April 1977 by closing United States military installations and giving MAAG personnel a week's notice to leave the country. A large store of equipment remained behind in the rapid American departure. Ethiopia then abrogated the 1953 United StatesEthiopian Mutual Defense Assistance Agreement and terminated the lease on Kagnew station. In the absence of a bilateral agreement, the United States had no legal basis for the delivery of aircraft, armored vehicles, ships, and a number of air-to-surface and air-to-air missiles that had been approved for delivery and on which the Derg had made partial down payment. Thus was terminated the military relationship between Washington and Addis Ababa.

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Page last modified: 10-01-2012 20:05:21 ZULU