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The Eritrean independence war (1961–1991) from Ethiopia was an important factor in the overthrow of Emperor Haile Selassie in 1974. But Eritrean nationalists’ failure to cooperate with Ethiopian civilian revolutionaries who brought about the downfall of the monarchy is partially to blame for the subsequent escalation of the war for Eritrea. Piggy backing on grassroots revolutionary momentum and thinly disguised behind progressive rhetoric, a military junta took power in Addis. Determined to preserve the Ethiopian imperial edifice, the new government remained true to its persistent declarations that it would fight Eritrean independence by every means available. As its military revved up its operations, it became clear that Eritrean battlefield victory against such forces and peaceful coexistence with Ethiopia afterwards required a new strategy of working in concert with Ethiopians of different stock from those who founded and presided over the empire. This paper shows Eritrean nationalist leaders of the 1970s and 1980s mustering the political guile necessary to reap irreversible gains from allying with Ethiopians opposed to the central government in Addis Ababa.