The blood of “Eritrean martyrs” will “fertilize the Ethiopian peace”…”Ethiopia couldn’t have done this without Eritrea.”
The war in Tigray which erupted on 4 November involves four key actors.
On the one side is the Tigray regional government, run by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). They lost the regional capital, Mekelle, but are continuing to fight on a number of other fronts.
On the other side the participants are the Ethiopian Federal Forces, Amhara militia and the Eritrean military. The first two are acknowledged actors, the third is not.
Not a single post has appeared on the official Eritrean Ministry of Information website. About the closest the website has come is an article commending blood donors for their “social awareness.”
A pro-government website has covered the war in Tigray, but made no mention of Eritrea’s involvement.
About the closest one comes to an acknowledgement of the role of Eritrean troops has been a Tweet by the American long-term resident in Eritrea, Thomas Mountain, who is strongly supportive of the Eritrean government.
In making this statement Mountain is doing no more than stating what every Eritrean knows.
Their troops are directly involved in the Tigray war, which is why the Tigrayans have used their missiles to hit the Eritrean capital, Asmara and other targets twice since the conflict began.
Eritrea’s secret involvement in the Tigray war
Since there are no independent media working in Eritrea (national or international) and the country is as heavily censored as North Korea, understanding what is happening requires listening carefully to the information that surfaces in the Eritrean diaspora. Families speak to each other; friends get messages out.
The first information that emerged was that a high-level meeting of the Eritrean government was held just prior to the conflict.
President Isaias is reported to have held a meeting with his closest confidants. These included army commanders and senior party leaders over the past few days in Embatkala.
Osman Saleh Mohammed, Yemane Gebreab (the president’s chief adviser) Yemane Gebremeskel (Minister of Information), Alamin Mohammed Seid (Secretary of the PFDJ – the ruling party), Brigadier Abraha Kasa (Director of National Security) and Colonel Simon Gebredingl (the Head of the Department of Internal Security) were at the meeting.
The president told them that the country had to accept that it has a small and not very viable economy and a lengthy Red Sea coast, which Eritrean cannot patrol on its own.
Hence it is imperative to think of some sort of “union” with Ethiopia, at least in terms of economic co-operation and and maritime security. This is perhaps a prelude to some form of “unity” with Ethiopia.
In so doing Isaias appears to be echoing Prime Minister Abiy’s grandiose dream of re-establishing the old empire-state of Ethiopia. This idea is not as far fetched as it would appear, despite the fact that Isaias led Eritrea’s 30 year war of independence from Ethiopia.
When President Isaias visited Addis Ababa in July 2018 to meet with Prime Minister Abiy he made remarks that left most Eritreans speechless. He told Abiy “you are our leader” and announced happily to the crowd: “I’ve given him all responsibility of leadership and power”.
Mobilising Eritrean troops and Ethiopian forces
After President Isaias’s trip to Addis there were repeated reciprocal visits by the two leaders to each other’s capital, ending with unprecedented visits to each other’s military bases.
12 October 2020: President Isaias visited Ethiopia, during which he visited a number of projects, including a hydro-electric dam and coffee plantations. He also went to the Bishoftu air-base – home to the Ethiopian air force. Both leaders took time to see each other’s key military assets ahead of the current conflict.
As the war drew close there were numerous reports that young Eritreans are being rounded up as conscripts.
National Service is not voluntary and the conscripts are forced to participate indefinitely – a form of slavery.
There were from the start of the war indications of Eritrean troop movements along the border with Tigray.
Some Ethiopian soldiers who were with the Federal Army’s Northern Command fled northwards into Eritrea when the Tigrayans took over the Northern Command base in Mekelle.
They were fed and assisted by Eritrean villagers, at the instruction of the Eritrean government, until the military could bring up supplies to feed and provision them.
At the same time there were reports from inside Eritrea of:
- a deployment of young recruits as well as veterans onto the front line with Tigray,
- the shelling by Eritrea of the Tigrayan town of Humera, a key link with Sudan
- the arrival by air of fresh Ethiopian troops (often under cover of darkness) who were then taken by truck up to the front lines.
On 15 November the BBC carried this report.
Tigrayan leader Debretsion Gebremichael has suggested that his forces have been fighting 16 divisions of the Eritrean army on several fronts for the past few days.
The Tigrayans have also accused Eritrean forces of crossing into Ethiopia to back federal forces there.
Since then it has been possible to trace the Eritrea/Ethiopian progress on maps, as they have advanced, taking large areas between Humera (in the west) and Zalambessa (in the East).
Other satellite images show the line of advance clearly.
The high price being paid by Eritrean troops
Information smuggled out of Eritrea describes the the intensity of the fighting, with many casualties.
Eritrean troops are reportedly sent into battle without identification of any kind: not even their blood group, which is essential if they are injured in the fighting.
Some have been provided with Ethiopian uniforms, to disguise their presence. Ethiopia’s Prime Minister even accused the Tigrayans of manufacturing Eritrean uniforms, in an attempt to internationalise the conflict.
There is even one report – from an apparently reliable source – that Eritrean wounded are being executed on the battlefield, rather than allow them to be transported back from the frontline.
In this way news of their role in this war is being concealed from the Eritrean public.
As Thomas Mountain put it: the blood of “Eritrean martyrs” will “fertilize the Ethiopian peace”…”Ethiopia couldn’t have done this without Eritrea.”