EAST AFRICA: An Idi-otic Invasion

  • Share
  • Read Later

(2 of 2)

Amin's invasion of Tanzania, however, was apparently triggered by internal problems—specifically, a mutiny of his troops. The crack Simba (Lion) Battalion rebelled in protest against the country's sagging economy. In early October, dissident troops ambushed Amin at the presidential lodge in Kampala, but he escaped with his family in a helicopter. Efforts by loyalist troops to smash the rebellion, which had its strongest support in southern Uganda, spilled over into Tanzania, where anti-Amin exiles joined the fighting. Big Daddy's attempt to disguise the true nature of these clashes, and to divert attention from Uganda's domestic troubles, led to his false charges of a Tanzanian invasion. Amin apparently decided that since his soldiers were already in Tanzania, they might as well try to claim the triangle of land north of the Kagera River, and thus complicate future attempts by the exiles to slip into Uganda.

Although both countries have more Communist-supplied armaments than they need for legitimate self-defense, there is little chance that the conflict will escalate into a major war. But already there have been hundreds of casualties from the fighting—a terrible price to pay for what amounts to an Idiotic invasion.

Another protracted African conflict was heating up in the breakaway Ethiopian province of Eritrea. In the first phase of a major offensive to smash the province's 17-year-old independence movement, Ethiopian forces, backed by Cuban and Soviet technicians and advisers, in August succeeded in reopening the road to the key city of Agordat. There, government troops had been pinned down by guerrillas of the Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF) since late this summer.

This week, TIME has learned, government forces—including thousands of militiamen redeployed from the Ogaden desert war against Somali insurgents—will try to regain control of a vital highway linking the Red Sea port of Massawa with the provincial capital of Asmara.

It has been three frustrating months for Ethiopia's military rulers and their Communist allies. A late summer push by the Ethiopians drove the rebels out of much of southern and western Eritrea. But the drive was blunted when the government troops began to battle a well-equipped 25,000-man EPLF army, which occupies the territory's central and northern plateaus. In one futile assault on Eritrean positions near Keren, a human wave of more than 6,000 Ethiopian militiamen were cut down by rebels firing captured Communist artillery. Ethiopian Strongman Mengistu Haile Mariam, who had vowed to crush the rebels by Sept. 12, the fourth anniversary of the overthrow of the late Emperor Haile Selassie, ordered the execution of 700 officers and men he held responsible for the fiasco.

Cuban President Fidel Castro, too, has been badly embarrassed by the increasingly direct role his forces have been playing in the battle against the independence fighters that Cuba helped to train. Not so long ago, Castro proclaimed that the Eritrean struggle was a ''legitimate national liberation war" that Cuba would support to the bitter end.

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. Next Page