Did Cuban troops fight Eritrean rebels in 1978?

This question has never been definitively answered.

Just to recap: the Cubans had arrived in the Horn in 1977 to help Ethiopia halt the invasion of the Ogaden by Somalia under President Siad Barre. Castro sent 11,600 Cuban troops and more than 6,000 advisers.

By March 1978 the Ogaden town of Jijiga had been recaptured by Cuban and Ethiopian troops led by Soviet and Cuban officers. Although the Somali rebels continued fighting in the Ogaden for several years, the Somali attempt to capture the region was over.

The question at this point was whether Cuba would allow its troops to be used to crush Eritrean rebels fighting the Ethiopian government.

Professor Odd Arne Westad of the London School of Economics quotes Cuban vice president, Caros Raphael Rodriguez as saying in February 1978 that he ruled out sending his forces into Eritrea.

Cuba’s leaders, Rodriguez said: “…are of the opinion that we cannot afford to make any mistakes in our handling of the Eritrean question. A wrong move now could endanger our entire policy and important positions in Africa. We would be confronted by the majority of African states, the Arabs, international organs, probably also the countries of the Non-Alignment Movement, and others. Therefore we continue to oppose a military intervention in Eritrea.” [Quoted in The Global Cold War, Cambridge University Press, 2007, p. 281]

But what did the CIA know of this issue?

The CIA document below marked ‘Secret’ and revealed under the Freedom of Information, was sent by the Director of the CIA, Stansfield Turner to his deputies on 29 August 1978.


This suggests that the CIA believed that only a small proportion of the entire Cuban expeditionary force would be involved and even then in “supporting roles only.”

At the same time the agency appears to have had little information of its own. It is extraordinary that the CIA had to rely on publicly available material from the Economist.

The CIA director is clearly keen to find out more. It is a pity that exactly what he was looking for is redacted.

Below is the Economist article that Mr Stansfield referred to.