One word that is always present with the word ‘Ethiopia’ is ‘war’. The country has been at war at one time or another ever since it came into being. But what most people tend to forget is the contribution Ethiopia and her armies have sacrificed to bring peace to other peoples across the world. We are of course talking about the UN peacekeeping missions that Ethiopia has participated in.
A Proud History
1 – The Korean War
On June 25th, 1950 North Korean forces gushed over the border to invade South Korea. The United Nations passed a resolution to send peacekeeping troops to restore the status quo. While mainly made up of the US Army, the peacekeeping force also included a battalion of Ethiopian soldiers.
Named the ‘Kagnew Battalion’, its commander was General Mulugeta Bulli. There were anywhere from 1,271 to 3,518 Ethiopian troops in the battalion at any given time. They were attached to the U.S. 7th Infantry Division. Although they were named the ‘Kagnew Battalion’ they were actually three successive battalions that were drawn from Emperor Haileselassie I’s 1st Division of the Imperial Body Guards.
The Ethiopians served gallantly in the war – the casualties were 121 killed and 536 wounded. At the end of the war, of more than 16 allies participating in actual combat (there were around 25 other countries supplying logistics and medical support) Ethiopia was the only country to have no prisoners of war (POW) to collect, as not a single soldier had surrendered. That was a mighty feat, considering that of the 238 times they went into combat they had the distinction of coming out victorious every single time! The North Koreans believed they were superhuman because they never saw a single dead soldier – since the battalion never left a single dead soldier behind.
The feats of these legendary troopers were largely overlooked by the western media. But one U.S. Army combat historian, S.L.A. Marshall made sure that they were never forgotten in his book ‘Pork Cop Hill’ which was later made into a movie.
Excerpts from the book include:
Describing the battle at Pork Chop Hill:
"Like Horatius at the bridge or the screaming eagles at Bastogne, it was a classic fight, ending in clean triumph over seemingly impossible odds."
And of another Ethiopian patrol:
Today, in Chuncheon City, Korea, there is a hall dedicated to the soldiers that fought in the war.
2 – The Congo Crisis
The day that the First Republic of the Congo became an independent state was the beginning of one of its saddest times in the country’s history. Dubbed the ‘Congo Crisis’, this turmoil lasted from Independence Day in 1960 until Joseph Mobutu (Mobutu Sese Seko) became the president of the country in 1966.
An army mutiny against its almost entirely Belgian officers was the igniting spark. This led to the military intervention of Belgian forces that went in to extract its citizens in the country. While there was a threat to the citizens it was still deemed to be an illegal act – a violation of the national sovereignty of the Congo.
The Belgian troops and civilians declared an independent state, the State of Katanga, and seceded from the Congo. A close Belgian ally, Moise Tshombe, was made the leader. But before the mineral rich state could even stand on its own two legs, there was another rebellion in the north by the Luba people.
In 1960, Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba requested a UN intervention which adopted Resolution 143. This resolution stated that Belgium should remove its troops and that the UN would provide military assistance to the Congolese forces.
Ethiopia was among the countries that contributed to the UN troops that were sent to the Congo. The troops came from the ‘Tekil Brigade’. The first brigade to come under that name was the pioneer Ethiopian force sent to make arrangements for the main force that would come under the same name.
The second Tekil Brigade was commanded by Colonel Teshome Irgetu and went into the Congo on June 14th, 1961 to replace the previous expeditionary force. The constitution of the battalion was actually 4 different infantry divisions that came one after the other from different parts of the country:
- The 8th Tekil Batallion from Maychew, Tigray: commanded by Lt. Colonel Tezera Gorfe
- The 25th Tekil Batallion from Jimma/Gojjam: commanded by Lt. Colonel Alemu Weledeyes
- The 26th Tekil Batallion from Addis Ababa: commanded by Lt. Colonel Gebremeskel Tesfamichael
- The 35th Tekil Batallion from Asmara: commanded by Lt. Colonel Gessesse Retta
Upon its arrival the brigade was quartered at Stanleyville. Its first job of the day was to establish order, security and confidence amongst the people of the Orientale Province – which it accomplished in a relatively short time. Even when violence broke out, in and around the city on Januray 13th, 1961, the brigade managed to control and calm things down.
The achievements of the Ethiopian troops in the most chaotic of times have been written on the annals of posterity. But to mention a few of their many heroic achievements:
- The 8th Ethiopian Battalion had its headquarters at Stanleyville. The battalion was order to move out to Leopoldville on October 10th, 1961. When things worsened in Katanga, the battalion was ordered to move out to Elizabethville, which it did by December 14th, 1961.
On that very day the battalion was ordered to launch an attack on the enemy. Excerpts from army historians have written:
“ (vi) Immediately upon arrival in Elisabethville the Bn was ordered to launch an attack on the enemy. In spite of the hasty order and lack of sufficient time to carry out a recce of any sort, the Bn moved from the airport towards the town in tactical battle order returning automatic fire delivered from tree tops, bunkers and civilian residences. Besides the task of clearing various enemy-held localities along the main road from the airport to the town, the Bn was given the major mission of attacking and capturing the strongly-defended enemy locality of the Lido Hotel.
On 15 December 1961 at 0430 hrs (local time) an attack was launched on the Lido by one rifle and one heavy weapons coy of the 8th Bn.2 supported by a few Indian armoured oars. Mission was accomplished by 0600 hrs (local time) and objective was captured.
(vii) The 8th Ethiopian Bn lost seven of its men while fighting in the Elisabethville operation and 9 men were wounded.
(viii) According to received order, the 8th Bn handed over its areas of responsibility in Elisabethville to the 35th Ethiopian Bn and began its move to its former position in Stanley-tills on 20 Jan 61. When the Bn was fully concentrated in Stanleyville, it resumed its previous duties and took over its previous areas of responsibility.”
- Of the 25th Ethiopian Battalion it was written:
“(i) On replacing the 1st Ethiopian Bn of the 1st Tekil Bde, the 25th Tekil Bn established its HQ at Kabalo. In spite of the confused and all time unsteady aspect of the situation, the 25th Bn carried out its tasks so well that firm co-operation and good understanding between the force and the native Balubas was created. As a result the Balubas never liked the idea of this Bn being transferred to another place in the Congo.
(ii) On 9 December 61, the 25th Bn sent one of its coys to Manono to strengthen the coy from the Indian Independent Me, already there.
The situation at Manono gradually grew worse and finally the force of one bn of Tshombe's Gendarmerie (which had strengthened its position in the town of Manono and around all the key points) launched an attack on the two coys, which only had four armoured cars for a fire support. The fighting carried on continuously for three days, from 6 to 9 Dec, and the 25th Bn lost one man and three were wounded. Outnumbered by the enemy and after three days of hard fighting, the two coys managed to drive back the enemy from their well-defended areas in Manono to Mitwaba and other nearby areas.
(iii) Due to the uncertainty of the situation at Manono the rest of the 25th Ethiopian Bn was ordered to move to Manono. After handing over the protection of Kabala to the local ANC force, the whole Bn concentrated at Manono on 10 December 61. This Bn is still at Manono making all efforts to establish the peace and order previously achieved in the neighbouring area of Kabalo.”
- Of the 35th Ethiopian Battalion it was said:
“(vii) Acting on an urgent order from HQ ONUC, the 35th Tekil Bn again moved to Elisabethville where fighting had broken out between the UN and Tshombe's force. On arrival in Elisabethville of only half its force (the rest being airlifted a week later) on 7 Nov. 61, the Bn succeeded in clearing bunker after bunker, which the enemy had taken so much effort to prepare. The old airfied, the police station, Sabena Guest House and the White's Building, were all objectives which the Bn captured. The final objective captured by the En was the Union Miniére - the well-known Katanga mine centre prized by the enemy more than any other place in Elisabethville. During the Elisabethville operation, the 35th Tekil Bn lost one soldier and two were wounded. The Bn is still in Elisabethville on the active task of ensuring safety of individuals and security in the confusion-struck capital of Katanga.”