Eritrea - Military Doctrine

Since Eritrea’s independence in 1994, Afewerki – trained in military tactics by China, his country’s principal military ally – has attempted to imbue within the country’s social fabric the notion that the territory is under constant threat, needs to be constantly vigilant, and must never fall into complacency that its battle has been won.

The PDFJ National Charter, Adopted by the 3rd Congress of the EPLF/PFDJ, Naqfa, February 10-16, 1994, stated We were victorious because we built a people's army rooted in the people: an army that had strong linkage with the people, participating in their daily lives; an army which was politically conscious and aware of its objectives; a productive army committed to the cause. The people's army was wholly voluntary and not a professional army. Now we must establish a national army with the people's army as its core.

"It is essential to establish a strong defence force which safeguards independence and sovereignty, and defends the country from enemies. It is also necessary to establish security and police institutions that maintain security and safeguard peace and stability. Our doctrine on national security and defence must be people-oriented. Because the security we desire is not so much the security of the land but of the people, they should participate in the effort. Thus, we must establish national army, security and police institutions which function in close cooperation with the people.'

Eritrea is a highly militarized society shaped by war, run by warriors. The ethos of armed struggle permeates all aspects of public life, and the country has proved unable, as yet, to escape its violent past. As such, even the most mundane aspects of everyday existence have come to be marked with a military outlook, and in the policymaking realm, this means that the prevailing assumption is that for every problem, there is a military solution.

Perhaps the most obvious mark of the unprofessional nature of the Eritrean military is its frequent and almost casual deployment around the Horn of Africa. Principal among its schizophrenic foreign policy agenda goals, Eritrea maintains a highly paranoid stance towards its former ‘colonizer’, the neighboring state of Ethiopia. In the aftermath of Eritrea’s independence, hopes ran high that the adversarial relationship between Eritrea and Ethiopia would turn to one of peace. Such was not the case.

More than unilaterally employing the Eritrean military to wage conventional interstate wars against regional neighbors, Afewerki has also received financial gain by renting out experienced military units to armed rebel groups throughout the Horn of Africa. In addition to collusion with insurgent elements in various states, the Eritrean military has aided in attempted government overthrows of the late Laurent Kabila of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the anti-government Tigrayan, Amahra, and Ogadeni factions in Ethiopia.

By 2007, the Eritrean expectation was that war with Ethiopia was inevitable, and the GSE had prepared a four-part military strategy. First, the GSE built up troop and munitions to protect the port of Assab. Second, the GSE built up troops in the Debub region of Eritrea, directly south of Asmara between Adi Keyh and Mendefera as this is the easiest land approach to Asmara. The GSE would intensify its defense of this area in order to prevent the Ethiopians from taking Asmara. Third, the GSE would allow the Ethiopians to enter Eritrea on the western border, just west of Badme. In this scenario, the GSE planned to throw the twelfth grade students studying at Sawa (who had a limited amount of military training and were not soldiers) at the invading Ethiopian forces in order to slow them down, i.e. essentially using the students as human shields.

The GSE anticipated that an Ethiopian attack from the west would not be successful, and would prove costly in terms of time and soldiers. Even if successful, the Ethiopians would face a difficult approach to Asmara from the west with its vertical ascension of more than 2000 meters.

Fourth, the GSE planned to enlist the support of Ethiopian opposition groups in the Tigre, Oromiya and the Ogaden regions of Ethiopia ) for example, the Oromiya Liberation Front (OLF), the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) ) to initiate guerilla activity within Ethiopia, and thereby create multiple demands on Ethiopian military resources. In addition, should the Ethiopians be successful in an invasion of Eritrea, President Isaias and his supporters would revert to guerilla warfare and return to the field, with groups of his supporters scattered throughout Eritrea engaging in insurgent actions.

A two-and-a-half-year border war with Ethiopia erupted in 1998 and ended under UN auspices on 12 December 2000. Eritrea hosted a UN peacekeeping operation that is monitoring a 25 km-wide Temporary Security Zone along the border with Ethiopia.

Join the mailing list