|Part of the Dominion cold war|
|A Klingon Battle Cruiser attacks Cardassian freighters bound for the Pentath system|
| Klingon Empire|
The Klingon-Cardassian War was a year long (2372 – 2373) interstellar conflict between the Klingon Empire and the Cardassian Union, that devastated the Cardassian state and paved the way for its absorption into the Dominion. The manipulation of the Klingons into launching their unprovoked attack on the Cardassians and its lasting consequences would prove to be one of the greatest coups of Changeling infiltration in the Alpha and Beta Quadrants.
Revolution and Paranoia
In 2372, reports emerged through the sealed borders of the Cardassian Union that the Cardassian Central Command had been overthrown by a popular uprising, restoring power to the civilian Detapa Council. The growing strength of the Cardassian Underground, coupled with the loss of security due to the collapse of the Obsidian Order following the disastrous Battle of the Omarion Nebula, had at last been able to remove one of the most oppressive regimes in the Alpha Quadrant.
However, on Qo'noS the news was received in a different light. Chancellor Gowron and the Klingon High Council became convinced that the revolt on Cardassia Prime was instigated by the Dominion and that the Detapa Council had been replaced by Founders. One of the most influential officers in the Klingon Defense Forces, General Martok, called for a massive invasion of Cardassian space to end the "changeling threat". Many Klingons, who had grown restless after decades of peace, rallied around him. What they did not know was that Martok himself had been replaced by a changeling, whose mission to destabilize the Dominion's enemies was proceeding perfectly.
The invasion was to involve a third of the Klingon Empire's standing forces, with over a hundred ships in the first wave alone. The plan was to mount a lightning thrust into the heart of Cardassian territory and conquer the Cardassian homeworld. All governmental officials would be executed, and an imperial overseer installed to put down any further resistance. The advance task force of over fifty warships, led by Martok aboard the IKS Negh'Var, was dispatched to Federation starbase Deep Space 9 under the guise of defending the station against a Dominion incursion.
Captain Benjamin Sisko, commander of Deep Space 9, was suspicious of the Klingons' motives as there had been no significant Dominion activity near the Bajoran wormhole for months. Thus, he ordered Lieutenant Commander Worf to uncover the Klingons' true intentions. Once appraised of the planned invasion, Sisko urged Martok to call off the attack and informed him that the Federation will not support an unprovoked attack. Martok paid his warning no heed, and shortly after commenced the invasion. The Federation Council quickly condemned the invasion, and in response an enraged Gowron withdrew from the Khitomer Accords, ending the alliance between the Klingon Empire and the Federation. Not all Klingons supported the invasion however, and Emperor Kahless himself condemned the war. (DS9: "The Sword of Kahless")
With Starfleet ordered not to interfere until the Federation Council could re-establish a dialog with Gowron, the Klingons were free to cross into Cardassian space. However, Elim Garak, aboard Deep Space 9, was able to send warning to Legate Dukat, Chief Military Adviser to the Detapa Council. Although the outlying Cardassian colonies were overwhelmed almost immediately, the Cardassian fleet did mobilize in time to offer greater resistance as the Klingons pressed closer to Cardassia Prime.
However, the Klingons still broke through the Cardassian lines after a pitched battle, leaving them only 52 hours from Cardassia Prime. Realizing the planet could not hold, Sisko offered to shelter the Detapa Council aboard Deep Space 9. Dukat evacuated the council members aboard the cruiser Prakesh, and with a timely rescue from the USS Defiant reached Deep Space 9. With this development, the Klingon fleet turned away from Cardassia and attempted to take the council members from Deep Space 9 by force. Fortunately, the weapons of the station had been heavily augmented in anticipation of a Dominion invasion, and it was able to withstand the siege long enough for Starfleet reinforcements to arrive.
Following their defeat at Deep Space 9, the momentum of the Klingon invasion was blunted and Cardassia Prime was out of danger. Gowron, fearing assassination from the failure to conquer the Cardassians, simply declared victory and recalled his forces. Meanwhile, the Klingons, refusing to relinquish the colonies they had conquered, began to fortify their positions and deploying orbital weapons platforms in preparation for a longer war of attrition. (DS9: "The Way of the Warrior", "Hippocratic Oath")
Although the Klingons were successful in taking the Cardassians by complete surprise with their unprovoked and sudden invasion, the Cardassians were considered to be 'honorable' enemies. Despite being outnumbered, Cardassians were able to maintain a stalemate with the Klingons by causing their ships to chase sensor ghosts and holo-projections as a trap before striking. (DS9: "Soldiers of the Empire")
In the following months, cloaked Klingon warships continued to rampage unchecked throughout Cardassian space alone or in small groups, destroying targets of opportunity and plundering Cardassian shipping. Nevertheless, the Detapa Council was unwilling to lose what was left of its fleet and remained on the defensive, hoping for a diplomatic solution. After the destruction of the outpost on Korma, which also killed fifteen Bajoran delegates attending a conference, Gul Dukat and Major Kira Nerys managed to commandeer a Klingon Bird-of-Prey. Unable to convince the Council to go on the offensive with the trove of military intelligence provided by the Bird-of-Prey, Dukat decided to embark on a personal war with the Klingons. (DS9: "Return to Grace")
Meanwhile, the Klingon attacks devastated the Cardassian infrastructure, resulting in a humanitarian crisis. Diseases once under control swept through Cardassian colonies, while the government struggled to even meet the basic needs of its people. With their fleet occupied, the Cardassians were forced to ask the Federation for assistance, such as in providing escort vessels for medical relief convoys responding to an epidemic of Rudellian plague in the Pentath system. The Federation also provided twelve CFI replicators to help rebuild Cardassian industries, although they were hijacked by Deep Space 9's chief of Starfleet security, Lieutenant Commander Michael Eddington, who was secretly a member of the Maquis. The war had virtually granted the Maquis free reign in the Demilitarized Zone, as the Cardassians no longer had the resources to combat them. (DS9: "Return to Grace", "Rules of Engagement", "For the Cause")
Cardassia joins the Dominion
As the war dragged on ineffectually into a second year, Gul Dukat entered secret negotiations for the Cardassians to join the Dominion, placing himself at the head of the new Cardassian government. In mid-2373, a massive Jem'Hadar fleet of over fifty ships crossed the wormhole and entered Cardassian space, followed by weekly convoys of ships, troops, and war materials. In only three days, they inflicted massive casualties on the Klingon forces, forcing Gowron to issue a general retreat. Faced with the overwhelming force of the Dominion, Gowron revived the Khitomer Accords aboard Deep Space 9. After over a year of conflict, the territories of the two powers had returned to their pre-war state, only with the Klingons having substantially weakened their forces, making the Dominion position that much stronger for the coming Dominion War. (DS9: "By Inferno's Light")