Tag Archives: Ethiopian Soldiers

UN honours Ethiopian peacekeepers

By Tesfa-Alem Tekle

ADDIS ABABA– The United Nations has honoured Ethiopia for its significant contributions to UN’s vast Peacekeeping operations, the Ethiopian ministry of foreign affairs said on Friday.

At a ceremony held at UN headquarters in New York to mark International Day of UN Peacekeepers, the United Nations has awarded Ethiopia a medal in honour of its peacekeepers, who sacrificed their lives during line of duty in different peace keeping missions.

Ambassador Tekeda Alemu, Permanent Representative of Ethiopia to the United Nation, received the medal awarded to Ethiopia.

The Ministry said Ethiopia has been actively participating in UN peacekeeping operations based on its firm conviction on the principle of collective security enshrined in the UN Charter since the establishment of the United Nations.

Ethiopia, with nearly 8,000 peacekeepers currently serving in UN Peacekeeping Missions around the world is Africa’s top contributing nation.

The horn of Africa’s nation is also world’s fourth largest contributor in terms of the number of its peacekeepers deployed under the United Nations umbrella

Currently Ethiopian Peacekeepers are serving in various UN peacekeeping missions including in Abyei, Darfur and South Sudan.

In addition, more than 4 thousand Ethiopian peacekeepers are deployed in Somalia as part of the AU peace support operation in that country.

The country has for years played significant role in the success of UN peacekeeping and its participation is the most tangible contribution to restoring international peace and security.



Ethiopia Spends Very Little Money on Its Military — And It Works


The question is … how?


There’s a few unusual things about Ethiopia. First, it has a pretty small military budget. Second, it’s in a dangerous neighborhood. Addis Ababa is in a cold war with its heavily-armed neighbor Eritrea and shares a border with Somalia—home to the terror group Al Shabaab.

At the same time, the Ethiopian military is pretty good.

“In part due to previous lessons learned, to date Ethiopia has been able to foil any significant terrorist attacks by Al Shabaab, though not for lack of trying by the terrorist organization,” OE Watch, the U.S. Army’s Foreign Military Studies Office monthly newsletter, recently noted.

The Ethiopians “scare the Hell out of everybody,” Alexander Rondos, the European Union’s representative for the Horn of Africa, said in 2014.

By global standards, Ethiopia’s military spending as a percentage of its GDP is low—only around 0.8 percent—which puts it in the bottom half of countries.

By African standards, the dollar amount spent—around $330 million per year or so depending on the source—is middling. Ethiopia is one of the few countries on the continent that decreased its defense budget during the past decade, according to data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

Despite this, Ethiopia has one of the strongest armies in Africa, arguably outmatched only by Egypt, Algeria and South Africa. And these three countries spend far more on their militaries, both in per capita terms and in actual dollars, than Ethiopia.


At top and above—Ethiopian troops in Somalia. African Union photos

Ethiopia fields more than 135,000 soldiers and hundreds of T-55 and T-72 tanks. Boosting this firepower, Ethiopia bought 200 more T-72 tanks from Ukraine in 2011.

Its air force is tiny, but fields a diverse group of older Russian fighters and more capable Su-27s and Czech-made L-39 trainers. The landlocked country, to be sure, has no navy.

The Ethiopian army is currently the fourth largest contributor to peacekeeping missions in the world when it comes to raw manpower. In short—don’t mess with Ethiopia.

So what is Addis Ababa doing right? Here’s a few tips. Focus on training, try to build weapons yourself and learn from experience.
A lot the country’s success derives from hard lessons learned during the Eritrean-Ethiopian War in the late 1990s. The badly-equipped Ethiopians took heavy losses and tens of thousands of soldiers died.

“It took several months and lots of money for the country to revamp the military and repel Eritrea’s attack,” journalist Abel Abate Demissie wrote in The Reporter. “Consequently, the country started to modernize its military and security apparatus both in terms of quality and quantity.”

Ethiopia invested heavily in training and producing its own weapons. Addis Ababa now makes its own version of the AK-47 rifle and PKM machine gun. It assembles its own grenade launchers and ammunition. The country’s arms industry can manufacture and refurbish tanks and armored vehicles—although they’re older Soviet-style models.

Ethiopia also churns out a lot of hardware for other African militaries engaged in peacekeeping. The country is the main weapons manufacturer for the African Union.

“Some say the best lesson Ethiopia learned,” OE Watch noted, “which it readily implements, is to launch proactive strikes against its enemies.”
But there’s an ugly side to this. Ethiopian troops have often extended those proactive strikes against civilians.

In 2006, Ethiopia invaded Somalia, occupied Mogadishu and overthrew the ruling Islamic Courts Union. This resulted in a new civil war with the violently jihadist Al Shabaab taking the comparatively-moderate ICU’s place.

The Ethiopian troops largely withdrew in 2009 under pressure from the African Union, which had deployed peacekeepers into the lawless country.

One reason A.U. wanted them gone—the Ethiopian soldiers murdered a lot of people. They gang-raped women and slaughtered Somali civilians “like goats,” a 2008 Amnesty International report stated.


Ethiopian troops in Baidoa, Somalia on June 22, 2014. African Union photo

“Ethiopian soldiers were accused of committing a wide range of atrocities, including firing mortars on civilian hospitals, press institutions, and houses, and rape, theft, kidnapping, and murder of Somali civilians,” according to a 2014 study published by the U.S. Army’s Joint Special Operations University.

But in 2014, the Ethiopians formally joined the African force and returned to Somalia. Today, there’s nearly 4,400 of Addis Ababa’s soldiers in the country—part of the 22,126-strong A.U. contingent.

Somalis still widely loathe the Ethiopians, but the troops are under A.U. command—and Somalia is now more stable than it has been in years.

Ethiopia has avoided a large-scale Al Shabaab attack, such as the 2013 siege on the Westgate shopping mall in Nairbobi, Kenya. Sixty-seven people died in the assault.

But this has a lot to do with Ethiopia aggressively policing its border. One factor that’s helped is that the terror group doesn’t exert much influence near the border. Instead, its territory directly abuts against Kenya.

Politicians and generals around the world often argue that bigger budgets and military effectiveness have a direct correlation — like a formula that shows an army getting tougher the more money you pour into it.

But a bloated budget can lead to a military being worse off—if a country squanders the money and spends it on the wrong things.

“In emphasizing troop training and modern, domestically produced, equipment, [Ethiopia] has managed to keep its military expenditures low, its armed forces well prepared, and its territory relatively safe from attack,” OE Watch stated.

View story at Medium.com


A Friend in Need




A Friend in Need

During the Korean War, many units served alongside the 31st Infantry, but none as respected as the Ethiopian “Kagnew” Battalion. In his book, Pork Chop Hill, S.L.A. Marshall refers to the Ethiopians as the most successful unit of any, despite language barriers and the vast difference of Ethiopia’s arid terrain from Korea’s cold hills. A member of that battalion, Gebre M. Kassa, later became the most revered officer in the Ethiopian Army. I met him in 1976 at the Command and General Staff College and was deeply impressed by his tactical competence and devotion to his profession. He wore a Silver Star, pinned on him near Pork Chop Hill by the 7th Division commander. When Emperor Haile Selassie was overthrown, his successor, Mengistu continued to call Kassa, his former commander, “sir”. Having fought Communism in Korea, Kassa opposed Mengistu’s alliance with the Soviets and declined taking a position in his government. Because Kassa was so widely respected in the Army, Mengistu feared him and had him killed. Kassa’s oldest son was imprisoned and tortured and lives today as a cripple with his mother who supports her family as well as she can on a widow’s pension of $4 a month. I encourage those who served alongside Ethiopia’s “Kagnew Battalion” in Korea to join me in helping the family of a true hero who was as much one of our own. A small donation will go a long way. If you could write a check to Mrs Aselefech Kassa, I’ll get your donation to her.

ETHIOPIAN FORCESEthiopianMedal.JPG (4629 bytes)
Distinguished Military Medal of Haili Salessie the First

Ethiopia furnished three 1,200-man battalions to the UN Command, beginning in June 1951 but only one battalion at a time. The first of these battalions — known as Kagnew (Conquerors) Battalions — arrived in May 1951 and was assigned to the U.S. 7th Infantry Division.

1st Kagnew Battalion Jun 51 — Apr 522nd Kagnew Battalion Apr 52 — Apr 53

3rd Kagnew Battalion Apr 53 — Apr 54

(09/20/99 — A monograph on these units’ activities and casualties, plus unit crests/patches, will be posted when received from the Ethiopian Korean War Veterans Association.)

Casualties                         122 KIA                 566 WIA


Ethiopian Soldiers in Korean War 1953


Ethiopia-UN Peace Keeping mission

Kagnew Battalion

1st, 2nd and 3rd Kagnew Battalions
Ethiopian Soldiers Korean War.jpg

Ethiopian Soldiers, part of the Kagnew Battalion, 7th Inf. Div., Korea, 1953
Active 1951-1965
Country  Ethiopian Empire
Allegiance  United Nations
Branch Army
Type Infantry
Size 6,037 soldiers in total
Part of US 7th Infantry Division
Patron Emperor Haile Selassie I
Engagements Battle of Pork Chop Hill
Decorations US Presidential Unit Citation
Col. Kebbede GuebreMajor General Ingida Asrat

The Ethiopian Kagnew Battalions 

The Ethiopian Kagnew Battalions ቃኘው were three successive battalions drawn from the 1st Division Imperial Bodyguard sent by Emperor Haile Selassie I between June 1951 and April 1954 as part of the United Nations forces in theKorean War. Even after the armistice, a token Ethiopian force remained in the country until 1965.

Altogether, 3,158 Ethiopians served in Kagnew Battalions during the war.


“Kagnew” was the name of the warhorse of Ras MakonnenMenelik II’s General and the father of Haile Selassie during theFirst Italo-Ethiopian War.  Military units from Imperial times would often adopt a name of a favored military commander and Ethiopian Warriors were often referred to interchangeably by the names of their war horses.

1st Division Imperial Bodyguard

The regular Armed Forces of the Ethiopian Empire consisted of four Divisions roughly of 10,000 men with support armor and artillery elements and complementary Air and Naval forces. This numbered roughly 50,000 men and women. The 1st Division Imperial Bodyguard had primary responsibility for security in the North of the country including Eritrea. Each Kagnew Battalion was drawn completely from the officers and men of the 1st Division Imperial Body Guard or the Kebur Zabagna, sometimes also referred to as Ethiopia’s “Royal” Guards. The troops selected for Korea were given intensive training in the mountains of Ethiopia for aclimatisation.

Performance in the Korean War

Ethiopian soldiers in Korea

The Kagnews served with great distinction, principally alongside the 7th Infantry Division, and by all accounts (including the enemy’s) acquitted themselves well in battle, suffering 121 killed and 536 wounded during the course of the conflict.  At the conclusion of the war the Ethiopians were the only contingent that had no prisoners to collect from the North Koreans since no Kagnew Soldier ever surrendered. They had the additional distinctions of having won each of the 238 times they engaged the enemy be it as aggressors or defenders. They were never bested in battle. The other distinction, and one that made them seemingly super human to their enemies, was there never seemed to be dead bodies of Kagnew soldiers, for the simple reason they never left their dead behind. This earned them the respect of their American colleagues, while fostering the belief among their enemies, who had often never seen black men before, let alone black prisoners or casualties, that they were indeed super-human.

One of the feats S.L.A. Marshall thought worth noting was an Ethiopian patrol at the Battle of Pork Chop Hill in 1953 when “…under full observation from enemy country, eight Ethiopians walked 800 yards across no-man’s land and up the slope of T-Bone Hill right into the enemy trenches. When next we looked, the eight had become ten. The patrol was dragging back two Chinese prisoners, having snatched them from the embrace of the Communist battalion…

The British military historian John Keegan notes that the Ethiopian units drawn from the Imperial Guard (“an over-privileged and somewhat pampered force”) fought with some distinction in Korea between 1951 and 1954, although performing less competently in the Congo (1960–64).

A Silver Star and eighteen Bronze Stars were also awarded to the Ethiopians. Two members, Colonel Irgetu and 2nd Lt. Haptewold Mamo, were awarded the highest Ethiopian gallantry award, and became “Knights of the Order of Emperor Menelik“.

Kagnew Station and Post War

When the US established a military base in Northern Ethiopia they named it Kagnew Station in honor of the officers and men of the elite Imperial Bodyguards that had earned their admiration. Kagnew’s exploits have been covered in detail in Pork Chop Hill by S.L.A. Marshall. Commenting on the fighting dogma of the Ethiopians Marshall states, “Like Horatius at the bridge or the screaming eagles at Bastogne, it was a classic fight, ending in clean triumph over seemingly impossible odds”. Pointing out that War correspondents who were drawn to the headline values of such operations as Little Switch the 163 war correspondents overlooked the equally interesting and unrivaled Ethiopian feats.

The former members of the Imperial Bodyguard Mahber (society) has existed quietly since the unit was dissolved by the Derg Military Junta and continues to celebrate the accomplishments of the men and officers not only of the Kagnew Battalion but of the Guard at large. It is currently under the leadership of Brigadier General (ret.) Desta Gemeda.

When the Communist Junta of Mengistu Hailemariam came to power it did everything to erase the “embarrassing” record of the Kagnew’s service against the communists.


Ethiopian soldiers in the Korean War

In 2008 the son of a Guardsman that served in Korea wrote the book Kagnew beKoeraKagnew in Korea which paid tribute to the men and officers of the three battalions, the Emperor who had the foresight to send them and authors S.L.A. Marshall and Komon Skordiles for their efforts in ensuring that the feat of those that had served was not forgotten. This new publication included many pictures and stories from the battalion.

One member of the battalion, Gebre (or Guebre) M. Kassa, was later the commanding officer of future Communist dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam.