Eritreas Success Story
December 06, 2001
When one takes a glance at the way Armenians would intermittently blow up embassies (yes, embassies) of Turkey, when one looks at how the Irish Republican Army (as well as the Unionists) have since the early 1970's resorted to the torching of buildings and other soft targets in downtown London against the English, when one checks out ETA of Basque and how they unleash terror on Spaniards from time to time, when Palestinians would blow up grocery stores full of unsuspecting Israeli shoppers, and when the Israeli Stern gang blew up King David Hotel back in the 1940's against the British, as well as the Corsican terror against the French, I cannot help but to marvel at the EPLF's unswerving discipline in carrying out the struggle for the independence of Eritrea against Ethiopia to the battlefield, and only to the battlefield, and never once deviati
In the late 1960's, as some of you can remember, a certain Addis Ababa University (Haile Selassie University in those days) student by the name of Marta MebraHu along with her colleagues, hijacked an Ethiopian Airlines commercial plane to demonstrate their disapproval of the way Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia was governing the country. Later, Marta's airplane stunt was foiled by adventurous plain clothesmen during the flight, and it all came to an abrupt end. She died in that ending. Marta MebraHtu, an Ethiopian of Eritrean origin, was the daughter of an army (Ethiopias) general and was very well to do by that country's standards. During the hijacking ordeal, many people were prompted to assume that the hijacking was the work of the ELF (Jebha) and/or PLF (later Shaebia/EPLF). Which brings me to the point I want to make. Neither the ELF nor the PLF claimed responsibility for the hijacking. In fact, as I recollect to the best of my memory, the PLF explained that Marta had nothing to do with the PLF nor with the Eritrean independence struggle. Even later, many PLF members would privately elaborate that the methods (i.e... terrorism on commercial airplanes) that Marta and her colleagues used to achieve their political objectives were categorically rejected by the PLF organization. PLF members frowned upon such tactics, as if to say that it was too "cowardly" and "counterproductive." Astonishing, isn't it, that the PLF and its youthful members could reply in such a mature and measured manner. President Isaias Afworki must have been in his very early twenties then, and so were his PLF "btSot." Even more remarkable is that well after the PLF became known as the EPLF, the members of this organization stuck to this same principle of disavowing "terrorism" in all its forms as a means to achieve national objectives, although it was always available to them to capitalize on. I consider this principle of the EPLF to have been, and still is, one of the shining characteristics of the organization.
Incidentally, Marta MebraHtu is now looked upon by Woyane as a heroine.
When one takes a glance at the way Armenians would intermittently blow up embassies (yes, embassies) of Turkey, when one looks at how the Irish Republican Army (as well as the Unionists) have since the early 1970's resorted to the torching of buildings and other soft targets in downtown London against the English, when one checks out ETA of Basque and how they unleash terror on Spaniards from time to time, when Palestinians would blow up grocery stores full of unsuspecting Israeli shoppers, and when the Israeli Stern gang blew up King David Hotel back in the 1940's against the British, as well as the Corsican terror against the French, I cannot help but to marvel at the EPLF's unswerving discipline in carrying out the struggle for the independence of Eritrea against Ethiopia to the battlefield, and only to the battlefield, and never once deviating from this modus operandi. How can any Eritrean not be proud of such a history, I ask?
SPEAKING OF "STRATEGIC WITHDRAWAL"
I was watching "This Week on ABC" with Sam Donaldson on November 25, when Sam eventually relayed the spotlight over to George Stephanapolous. The discussion? You guessed it - bin Laden, Taleban, the Northern Alliance, and the future of Afghanistan. If we have heard these stories once, we have heard them a thousand times, but we keep on listening and watching to see how the political and military drama finally wraps up. After all, Afghanistan is a Third World country just like ours and the rest of the Horn of Africa, hence, has a direct relevance. The drama unfolding on our home screens on the situation of Afghanistan allows us to experience in a vicarious way, what may or may not happen somewhere in our sub-region at some point in the future. Anyway, George had three guests for his segment and was going to interview the first guest one-on-one, and then move to the next two together.
Georges' first guest's name was Dr. George Friedman of STRATFOR intelligence organization. Dr. George Friedman happens to be a senior member of this organization. STRATFOR, is what is known in the intelligence community as the "shadow of the CIA." At any rate, George Stephanapolous asked Dr. George Friedman if he thought that the "Taleban can hang on to Kandahar and Kunduz" much longer, against a much mightier US? The first words out of the guests mouth were:
"I would have suspected that the Taleban forces would have made a strategic withdrawal, left the cities, and dug in the mountains."
I was completely stunned when Dr. George Friedman uttered the words "strategic withdrawal," because the term "strategic withdrawal" was popularized by the EPLF in 1978. Although, there are many other terms which refer to similiar terms and concepts as "strategic withdrawal" in military academic lexicon, they don't connote the sum meaning of that term. The EPLF first used the term "strategic withdrawal" when the Soviet Union lumbered through into Ethiopia in 1977, to help shore up the fledgling government of President Mengistu Hailemariam. The EPLF, as well as the ELF, had successfully routed waves upon waves of Ethiopian forays into Eritrea, and managed to liberate about 85-90% of Eritrea from Ethiopian colonization. Much less Mengistu, Ethiopia itself was on the brink of extinction, until the Soviet Union turned the table on the Eritrean liberation movements. With the exception of Asmara and a few other cities, the whole country was in the hands of the liberation movements. The 1978 offensive by the Soviet Union against the EPLF included heretofore unseen sophisticated weaponry, mainly surface-to-surface to missiles, mounted and launched from the Red Sea from Soviet battleships, that persuaded the EPLF to employ a "strategic withdrawal."
So, what took the EPLF nearly two and half years of difficult combat against Mengistu's Derg soldiers and peasants to achieve, was abandoned in little time when the Soviet Union delivered a force majeur with its surface-to-surface missiles. Overjoyed that the Soviet Union accomplished what the Ethiopians themselves couldn't accomplish, Mengistu and his colleagues scoffed at EPLF's insistence that what they did was nothing more than a "strategic withdrawal," and that they will come back to finish their unfinished business later on. In essence, "strategic withdrawal" meant that the EPLF could've stood its ground and defended what they had previously gained, but that placing a premium on the lives of their fighters was weightier, because doing so would eventually afford the EPLF the advantage of choosing the date and time of delivering the final and deadly blow to the enemy. The element of surprise, coupled with the obtainment of latitude of space and time replaced short term military gains. This is the stuff of "strategic withdrawal." Most Western military analysts in those days ridiculed the EPLF's military choices, and sounded very much like the noise that the buffoon Mengistu was making in Addis Ababa. As far as the Westerners were concerned, EPLF's "strategic withdrawal" was nothing more than a full scale admission of defeat.
Fast forward to 2000, and once again, we see Shaebia using the term "strategic withdrawal" to explain what took place in May of that year on the plains and mountian gorges of Mereb-Setit, Mereb-Alitena, Barentu and Zalmbessa. In a daft demonstration of its similarity, Meles Zenawi and his 3 million Tigrayan Ethiopian constituency echoed what Mengistu said when confronted with the term "strategic withdrawal" twenty-three years ago - Woyanes from all corners of the world claimed that EPLF's "strategic withdrawal" means defeat. But even in the 21st century, that term has its usual resonance for me, because I can still see Addis Ababa losing sleep over Shaebia, one year after Woyane celebrated their victory party in full view of the Western media.
Little wonder then, that Dr. George Friedman of STRATFOR intelligence outfit has made the term "strategic withdrawal" an integral part of his organizations' lexicon. Its a tried and tested military theory of the EPLF. I wouldn't be surprised if he didn't place a great deal of currency on that terminolgy squarely on account of the Eritrean Defense Forces military genius. The intelligence communities of the West are paying very close attention to the how our forces continue to dismember Ethiopias armies. However, Dr. Friedman was overly presumptious by thinking that the Taleban would resort and then replicate this military theory to Afghanistan's reality. The Taleban the exact opposite of what a "strategic withdrawal" entails.
DR. FRIEDMAN'S ANALYSIS OF THE TALEBAN
One of the major differences between the ELF (Jebha) and the EPLF, among many other factors, was that EPLF's approach to warfare was not just limited to warfare, but included a whole gamut of social, economic, gender, and health policies as they engaged in warfare. Theirs was a holistic approach to the struggle that won the hearts and minds of most Eritreans. In retrospect, one can say that having built a strong population base that served as a rock solid foundation in their pursuit of independence, it was only a matter of time before complete success would come EPLF's way. The EPLF was already a bona fide government before independence.
Since 1996, the Taleban had tried to make inroads into Afghani society in an attempt to consolidate their polictical gains. The trouble was that most of the polices of the Taleban were founded on theories that existed 1500 years ago, and was trying to transplant it to a post-industrial international environment. I can't help but knock myself silly when I find myself saying this, but I have to, because there are too many people in the world (including educated Eritreans, mind you) who insist that women should not participate in the productive sectors of society. As long as there are people who think this way, I have to reiterate "that it is impossible to go forward and have progress without the full participation of women in society, therefore they should participate in society's productive sectors." The Taleban through their ruthless and idiotic edicts did manage to create for themselves a cozy arrangement in Afghanistan, but did zilch for the benefit of their country, as is wholly obvious. This is just one aspect of their ignorance.
Without digressing too much into medieval asininity, I shall return to myoriginal topic - "strategic withdrawal" in the Afghan context. Dr. Friedamn was perplexed when he saw that the Taleban were going to attempt to defend cities (Kunduz, Kandahar and Kabul), instead of doing what the EPLF did in 1978, and in May 2000. Even the Taleban method of operation in war is at direct variance with modernity. The Taleban chose to dig in the cities and fight to the death, when they should've done what Dr. Friedman was alluding to - "startegic withdrawal" into the mountains. Common sense, wouldn't you say? Not to the Taleban. The Taleban thought they had a chance of defending their "holy cities" against B-52's, sweet Jesus! They must be having second thoughts as I am putting pen to paper for this article. If the Taleban don't have the kind of anti-aircraft that can ascend to heights that the B-52 flies, what's the point of defending cities? The Taleban have allowed raw machismo to get in the way of cold analysis and introspection, at their peril.
Simply put, the defending army has to defer to military expedience when the opposing army is either far superior in technology (USA), or fields WW-I type of a ponderous human wave assault (Ethiopia). The Eritrean military school of thought of "strategic withdrawal" defers to military expedience. Another way of saying common sense. In this sense, military expedience refers to re-scheduling the time and space of combat to a more propitious moment. This military school of thought has not only delivered the independence of Eritrea from Ethiopian colonization, but has also shown how it can be successfully applied even in conventional confrontations in the future, albeit with additional refinements. Two very tangible results of "strategic withdrawal."
Around June of 1998, Ethiopian Television went around the border area (namely Agame), and started interviewing peasants who lived along the Eritrean-Ethiopian border. And I will never forget how one 60ish Agame peasant responded to a question that was posed to him:
"How do you assess what Shaebia is doing along this border area?"
In extreme anger and frustration, the peasant replied:
"I don't mind fighting Shaebia, but why don't they stand their ground and fight?"
The fury in the words of the Tigrayan peasant confirmed to me that Shaebias "strategic withdrawal" system is without a doubt working. Woyane desperately wanted not only to engage Shaebia head on, but also had the gut feeling that if the head on collision didn't materialize, any thought of complete "victory" would be like running on empty. That's exactly what happened. At the outset, Shaebias military objective was clear - demarcation. The road to demarcation may have been slow and agonizing, but the end result was assured from the very beginning. Shaebia delivers once again, in a very tangible way. There were political means to have settled the border contention, but as President Isaias Afworki says time and again, "you can't applaud with one hand." Woyane, as previous Ethiopian governments have tried to do, thought that they could impose their will on Eritreans by force and actually succeed in nullifying Eritreas sovereignty. Woyane made a scandalous error of judgement by under-estimating the will and spirit of the people of Eritrea to not only survive, but to eventually prosper. As long as Ethiopians are bent on military solutions when dealing with Eritrea, the need to be steadfast remains. The military school of thought of "strategic withdrawal" is an intricate part of Eritreas success story this far. As a school of military thought, "strategic withdrawal" will probably be around until the gallant Eritrean Airforce passes puberty. And this happening is just around the corner. Nothing stays the same.
Indeed - Wetru Awet Nihafash!
Gila Kibret,contributed and has sole responsibility for the content on this page. Comments about this article you can contact the writer by e-mail: Gila Kibret
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