The Rebirth Of Somaliland (13): How The SNM Invaded The North


By Dr. Hussein Mohamed Nur

This part is about the dynamics of SNM’s ‘operation liberation’ effort of the North from occupied troops of Siyad Barre’s the dictatorial regime.

Having signed the truce discussed previously, the SNM found itself in a desperate situation. Nevertheless, the SNM political and military leadership were never distressed of the frantic situation. The SNM had only two options with no third one to choose from: The SNM had to choose either to go for the option of buckling down and reducing itself to a toothless tiger or otherwise to go for broke. They went for the latter. It was immediately after the agreement, that the SNM chairman (Ahmed Mohamed Sillanyo), the Central Committee members and the SNM command and military leaders met at a place called ‘Dhoobo-guduud’. A decisive and final decision was reached there as an alternative left which was to wage war and take on a frontal headlock with the government troops stationed and spread along the border but in the agreed and specified demilitarized buffer zone, about 13 kilometers inside and from the border with Ethiopia, according to the peace accord. For the SNM chairman, the politicians, and the commanders there was no retreat for them but only to go forward to meet the enemy either to achieve victory or to perish in total annihilation. The chairman urgently left the scene (the meeting place) and within few days departed for London for safety and security purposes and, therefore, to avoid retribution by the government of Ethiopia since the decision of the SNM was a breach of the terms of the agreement. A full attack by the SNM forces became imminent.

The SNM consumed not much time to regroup its forces dividing them into two main divisional command fronts, i.e, the Madina and the Makka and prepared to march forward towards the border to fulfill targets.

Each front had its military targets and objectives. The Makka front forces had to take its military target objectives in the eastern parts of the country initially attacking and capturing Burao. The division was by Colonel Ahmed Mirre Mohamed as the commander and Colonel Adan Suleiman as deputy commander. Countless number of other officers took part and include: Colonels Handulle, Mohamed Kahin, Jama Ali Elmi, Hassan Kayd, Abdirahman Ahmed Hersi ‘Hunsho’, Ismail Aden, Abulhakim Sumuli, Muse Hassan Dhunkal (Muse Bidar), Hassan Abokor, Bidhiid, Ibrahim Jama Dhiif, Jama Digaale Duale, Omar Dhaka Finish, Hassan Kayd and many others.

Rebels of Somali National Movement (SNM) sit on their beds -30 November 1989 in Zeila northern Somalia

The Western divisional front (Madina) was further divided into two sub-divisions with divergent targets. A sub-divisional command (the Central front – Sayid Ali) with its targets to attack the Adadley garrison. It was led by a dynamic Colonel, Hussein Dheere, as the Commander with Ahmed Hassan Waysa Ade (who is alive today) as the Deputy Commander. The other commanding officers who led the attack on the Adadley military garrison included Mohamed Ali (leading an own unit fighting together with the Sayid Ali forces), Colonels Ahmed Janan Oogo, Mohamed Ismail, Ali Mohamed Yusuf (Ali Gurey), who was originally a civilian intellectual but promoted to a commander and many others.

The main western divisional front forces were led by colonel Ibrahim Husssein Dhegaweyne as the commander (who is alive today) and Dayib Gurey (vice commander) together with many other officer commanders such as many other Colonels (Abdillahi Askar, Mahdi Ali, Adan Shine, Aden Abdi Abyan – Adan Ade who led the Sanaani unit, Mohamed Elmi Samatar (aka Mohamed Elmi Galan leading the Sayid Omer unit), Colonel Gamadheere, Hussein Dheere, Abdirahman Aw Ali Farah, Ahmed Dhagah, Mohamoud Haybe Omer, captain Weerar, and many others.

The command control of SNM forces was held by Hassan Yonis Habane, Hassan Gurre and Muse Bihi Abdi. The target was to attack Hargeisa starting the onslaught first on the 26thSector HQ and Birjeex Centre and Hargeisa the airport.

The Madina front started moving from its base but days later after the Makka front.  There was a problem in the procurement of fuel which proved difficult especially for the western command (Madina) front battalions. There was petrol rationing situation at the time. The Eastern front (Makka) had its share of fuel before the western front which was all what was in hand in the hope to get petrol from Ethiopians for the Madina division. But that never came. In fact, the plan to get fuel from Jigjiga but the Ethiopians turned that hope downland left Madina front forces without petrol. Nevertheless, the Makka forces went according to the plan. But the Eastern divisional front (Makka) had petrol just enough to reach the destination (Burao). The forces started moving days earlier than the Madina divisional front forces. On 26 May 1988, at dusk, the Makka front left Samatar Ahmed village. The forces consisted of 1,200 fighters altogether with minimum rounds of ammunition, vehicles etc. By sunset, they reached the town of Dhoqoshay. In the early morning of the next day, they were at a popular place just outside Burao known as the Barta/Badhka (a place where the Barre’s regime’s army used for shooting and execution of the people). Passing the Barta, the SNM forces went straight to Burao with no resistance. At ‘Bar Siigo’ restaurant, the forces were divided into two part forces. One front headed towards the bridge, the other to the Burao military HQ. There was not much resistance as the government forces literally ran off without fighting leaving behind huge ammunitions, weaponry, and tanks which were taken and used by the SNM forces. The SNM forces commander (Colonel Ahmed Mirre) was wounded in the head. Colonel Handulle, also wounded in the arm, had to replace him and took the command. In sum, Burao was liberated within few days of the fighting though later on the SNM met a strong counter-attack from the enemy and counter-attacks from forces dumped at Burao airport straight from South Somalia.

The Madina division finally secured fuel through with difficulty but the wittiness and patience of Mohamed Hashi Elmi who raised fuel donations to fill a tanker hidden in the bush. The western divisions front (Madina) eventually moved a couple of days behind than the Eastern front which started the March on 27 May, i.e., on 30 May 1988 and started marching to cross the border from a place named the Masajidka.

A noteworthy to mention that Colonel Ga’amadheere, Yousuf Gadhle, and Mohamed Abdi Ali were already secretly in Hargeisa few days before the move for reconnaissance purposes and for intelligence gathering. On departure, the Madina front forces were about 1,500 fighters with a modest amount of transport vehicles. They started the march from ‘Masajidka’ at 12:00 p.m.

While on mobility or move the SNM forces were spotted by a surveillance MIG Hunter plane of government Air Force piloted by a South-African mercenary pilot. Continuous reinforcements and replenishment of weapons for the government forces steadily poured for the government from their western battalions and from Berbera port. The SNM forces had scuffles in the late evening before they reached the Command of the 26th Sector. The processions marched to Sheikh Mowdhle at around 5:00pm. From thereon they continued to ‘Sheikh Omer camp’ outside Hargeisa. From thereon they took a rough path made by Sheikh Omer himself years ago called the Halgan path (Waddo Halgan) then down to ‘Adrosh’ village, and then to ‘Hagal’. At about 7:30 pm the SNM forces camped just about 300 meters away from the Command and Control HQ ‘Taliska Fooqa’ (now the Ministry of Defense) of the government forces in the North (the 26th sector). The SNM were ready in defense manner but equally in attack mood to attack too.

At the 26 Sector Military HQ and command Centre of the ‘Faqash’, before the SNM started assault they were attacked, according to the plan, the SNM forces were prepared for fighting and they wanted the fighting to happen in the night as they knew by experience that they the SNM forces were stronger in fighting during the night. In that same night, the 26 Command and Birjeex Military Base were captured and most of Hargeisa was in the SNM hands. However, on the morning of 31 may 1988, the fighting proved difficult. The government troops regrouped themselves with an entire brigade from the West. The fighting was taking place inside the city. The strong defenses of Hargeisa had fallen within that same night and in the first few days of fighting. The defeated government forces withdrew to the outskirts of Hargeisa and started to fight from the second echelon of defensive positions,, i.e., from the Airport and from the hills in the East of the city. Ruthless artillery shelling by the government’s inventory troops was coupled by relentless aerial bombardment by the Air Force destroying the city (detailed in elsewhere by the author ‘Rebirth of Somaliland’). The government army was shelling the residential areas and public buildings and centers (schools, mosques, markets etc.) indiscriminately. The SNM sustained heavy human casualty. According to Muse Bihi Abdi (the current president of Somaliland), the SNM lost 60% of its original trained force though young men were joining in hundreds.

On 28 May 1988, Colonel Mohamed Ali (leader of Sayid Ali unit) crossed the border to assist SNM’s other central command forces attack on Adadley. These operations were followed by attacks on the coastal areas. However, there was a great resistance at Hargeisa.

On 29 May the SNM forces led by Colonel Hussein Ahmed (Hussein Dheere) captured Adadley military garrison with ease and with less resistance. On 30 May 1988, Mohamed Ali Captured Madera prison and Colonel Ibrahim Hussein (Dhegaweyne), commander of the Makka Division (western battalions) and other commanders such as Colonel Aden Adde, Musa Bihi, Mohamed Elmi Samatar, Hussein Dhere, Abdirahman Huunsho, Aden Shine  and many other officers of the western front division entered Hargeisa with some resistance. Colonels Ga’amadhere, Mohamoud Haybe Goodaad, Abdillahi Uddo were already in Hargeisa before the forces’ incursion for surveillance and secret mission.

From May to September 1988 Hargeisa was under evil forces of destruction of Siyad Barre. After having significant casualties, the SNM’s remaining fighters were forced to retreat to the outskirts of the city. By then Berbera and Hargeisa airports were open for the enemy as the lifeline for the government’s troops which were holding on to areas captured and determined to fight to gain control of Hargeisa. The battle of Hargeisa was severe. Hargeisa was seen strategically meaningless for the SNM since the lifeline of the enemy was still operational. The SNM’s military commanders and strategists made that tactical judgment and a calculated decision to attack Berbera. SNM forces attacked Berbera. Continuous reinforcements and replenishment of weapons for the government forces were steadily streaming and pouring from the Berbera port and their west army battalions. But Berbera was the lifeline for the enemy. But to hold on to the captured areas and fight to gain control of Hargeisa was seen meaningless so long as the lifeline of the enemy was alive and operational. The SNM military commanders and strategists eventually made a tactical judgment and a calculated decision to attack Berbera. The SNM organized a strong force to launch the attack. The SNM force was led by Arab Duale and Abdillahi Hussein (Dhegaweyne) under the operation code named ‘Adan Suleiman’. Both of them were some of the top and brave SNM commanders. Berbera eventually fell into the hands of the SNM.

The SNM’s surprise attacks resulted in the capture of the main towns and villages that fell into the hands of the SNM liberation fighters. In general analysis, the SNM forces which crossed the border met no resistance on the way and the all-out offensive they took on the government forces on major towns was surprising and paid dividends. The attacks were lightening and carefully planned. The decision of the SNM was suicidal in nature it was extremely a bold one. It was a matter of life and death and a choice between hope and despair. It was either the decimation or the end of SNM and the end cause of the struggle or a victory and success. But it was the best option for a committed SNM liberator to take. It was characteristics of a real terminator.

In the process of the liberation struggle, civilians turned military leaders and many of them became part of the best commanders and leaders. The SNM operations ended with major successes. Barre had a kick in the teeth. The opportunity for the SNM proved that the strong-armed force of Somalia (one of the strongest in Africa) which was weakened by the 1977/78 and defeated with the help and assistance by the Soviet Union and Cuba and other Socialist countries had no chance or morale to fight with the SNM liberators. The SNM easily defeated and humiliated the Somali government forces affected by low morale.

The SNM’s weaponry or arsenal was insufficient due financial constraints. The SNM faced the strength and might of the Government’s regular government force which was then considered as one of the largest and strongest in black Africa. Yet most often than not the SNM forces had the upper hand. The peace agreement was beneficial for the Somali troops in getting relived from the SNM pressure. But it ended to be, in a way, a blessing in disguise for the SNM forces. It was a wake-up call for the SNM as there were some standing differences between groups during the time of the truce signing. But nevertheless, when the news was heard, all of a sudden hatches were buried, differences were forgotten buried and the groups became united as if sharing a single soul. With sheer determination, emotion and patriotism the government forces were easily defeated.

In desperation the government forces resorted to killing and massacring innocent civilians, bombarding and shelling public places, schools, hospitals, mosques, markets, and made efforts to erase building to the ground and reduce the city to rubble. Water and electricity supplies were cut off. More than 50,000 civilians of men, women, and children were killed. Torture of civilians and massive arrests of people became routine, which existed even well before the eruption of the fighting as reported by international human rights organizations.

The surprise attacks and the SNM invasion caused a difficult period for the people of Somaliland origin inside the South (Somalia), particularly in Mogadishu. Many high ranking officers from the North who originally contributed to the formation of the SNM military wing were still trapped inside the country. The politicians, civil servants and intellectuals such as Jama Mohamed Ghalib, Ahmed Hassan Musa, Omer Mohamed Handulle (Omer Bobe), Mohamed Hawadleh Madar (Jiir), Mohamed H Hassan Salah, Osman Ali Jama (Osman Kaluun) who were behind the formation of the SNM and facilitation of the departure missions of military officers to join the SNM in Ethiopia were still in Mogadishu. Women were the backbone and the machinery at the back of the forces by helping the wounded as paramilitary, medical staff and also. Apart from their significant auxiliary roles many of them fought alongside men.

Details of SNM’s attacks on the Hargeisa have been provided officers, commanders as well as the SNM liberators. Before SNM entered the country, SNM attacks were only sporadic. The SNM, during its struggle, lost important commanders such as Colonel Mohamed Hashi ‘Lixle’ and others as well fighters in some attacks such as those on Ballay Gubadle and Buroa-Duuray in 1984.

By December 1988 the entire of Hargeisa fell into the hands of the SNM forces. However, in September 1988 the SNM forces withdrew purely for the safety of the population and for tactical reasons. Some argue that was because of differences within the SNM commanders and politicians. That was exactly a military tactic and nothing with politics. After all, politicians were not on the ground. However, Hargeisa was not liberated for a quite along until around the time Bare regime fell. The SNM lost thousands of fighters and many of our cream, trained and talented soldiers and commanders while many lost their lives or wounded (like myself) in the fierce fighting and battles.

Thousands of government soldiers and commanders were killed or wounded in the battle with the SNM forces. The commanders of the government troops (some of them were killed) included: Generals such as Mohamed said Hersi (Morgan), Ahmed Warsame, Osman Gaab, Ali Kediye, Kahiye, Cadceed, Hirane, Siyad Daud, Abdulaziz Ali Barre, Yousuf Tallan, Anaboodhe and colonels such as Ina Ma’allin, Codweyn, Fardojan, ina Kora Jan, Awes Gedow, Munye Aby Munye and others.

The SNM had the upper hand and defeated the government forces but the SNM chose to consider the human aspect of the war with the defeated soldiers and their Commanders. Instead of taking prisoners of war (POW) and resorting to inhumane treatments, the SNM gave a special treatment to the war prisoners of the defeated armed troops and associated militia groups in the hands of the SNM. Over 10,000 soldiers and the militias fighting alongside the government forces were given safe passages by the SNM to cross the border with Ethiopia safely to find their own routes back to the South. That took place without torture or carrying revenge contrary to the regime’s atrocities to civilians in the north.

Until now there no monuments erected for the SNM war heroes with the exception of two erected by Mohamoud Wadad, an ex-SNM fighter  for two brave fallen heroes (Mohamed Haji Muse ‘Haragwafi’ at Aw Barkahdle and for  Hamud Ibrahim Yasin at Dhibato which stands right on where he died on 25 May 1988 while fighting with the government forces and Dubato village. As a matter of fact, Hamud died in 1984 at Burao-Duray with Lixle.

The fierce and surprise attacks of the SNM and the successful consequent achievements the SNM forces made in which thousands of SNM fighters lost their lives has been described by the following lines (in communication with the SNM leaders and fighters who died during the entire period of struggle):

Sargaal iyo Midah Siyaasi (whether an officer or a politician)

Barbaar sooc ahoo aqoon lihi (selected young and educated)

Suldaan iyo caaqilkiisa (A sultan and his chief)

Raggii surmiga cadceediyo (the men who suffered in scorched sun)

Saraaraha noo maraayay (for us those who were went inside the gulleys and gorges)

Soomalilaand way xorowdoo (Know that Somaliland is free).

(Composed by Ali Rabi Seenyo).

The enlightening success of the SNM’s invasion was described as a successfully accomplished mission as described by the following poetic line in Jamal Ali Hussein’s 2009 poem  ‘Abaal Gud’: [“Halgankii Gobanimo Doonkii SNM, Guul ku soo Khatimye”) which means “The SNM Struggle Ended with Success”].

For an account of the atrocities and government reprisal practices by the government forces on the civilian population as a result of the SNM’s surprise attacks and invasion until the last moments of fighting and defeat read next part (Continued).



    1. The Rebirth Of Somaliland (12): The Peace Accord Between Barre And Mengistu – The Deal And Its Implications
    2. The Rebirth Of Somaliland (11): Scorched Earth Policy In The North And The Letter Of Death

    3. The Rebirth Of Somaliland (10): The Gezira Beach Atrocity (The Massacre Of The
    4. The Rebirth of Somaliland (9): Hargeisa Group Hospital (The UFO Group)

    5. The Rebirth of Somaliland (8): The Epoch Of Military Dictatorship And The Repression Of The North
    6. The Rebirth of Somaliland (7): Operation Birjeex (SNM Rescue Unit)
    7. The Rebirth of Somaliland (6): The SNM Liberation Struggle And Tactical Operations
    8. The Rebirth Of Somaliland (5): The Formation Of The SNM And Liberation Struggle
    9. The Rebirth Of Somaliland (4): The 1961 Aborted Military Coup
    10. The Rebirth Of Somaliland (3) – Northern Mistrusts And Discontents: Origins And Emergence Of Early Signs
    11. The Rebirth Of Somaliland (2): The Process Of The Union And The Act Of Union
    12. The Rebirth Of Somaliland (1): History of Somaliland


    The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Horndiplomat editorial policy.

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