Between 1974 and 1991, the Ethiopian army was one of the largest and most heavily armed ground forces in Africa. In March 1978, it scored a decisive victory over Somalia. However, it failed to beat the northern insurgents despite its superiority in numbers and arms. On their part, the northern insurgents carefully studied the army’s weakest points and mounted surprise attacks on poorly defended positions. One such target that suffered from repeated insurgent onslaughts was Dabat, capital of the Wogara awrajja (subprovince) in northern Gondar. The army unit assigned to carry out counterinsurgency operations in that sector was the Northwestern Command. But mainly because of the serious problems within the command structure, the army miserably failed not only to hunt down insurgents but also to defend garrison towns like Dabat. The incidents that occurred at Dabat show us the internal crisis in the Northwestern Command. Using the untapped archives of the Ministry of National Defense and eyewitness accounts, this study seeks to uncover the army’s structural problems, such as intelligence failure, con flict among commanders and officials, infiltration, insubordination, indifference, and indiscipline.

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