Ethiopian National Defense Forces(ENDF) crushed an Eritrean army attack last weekend, a military source said.
The incident took place after an Eritrean elite force, estimated about 2000-3000 troops, attacked Ethiopian army military posts.
The military posts are located inside Eritrea soil and were established last March, according to sources.
It is to be recalled that on Thursday, March 15, ENDF announced that it carried out military raids earlier that day on three terrorist training camps, in Ramid, Gelahben and Gembe areas , located 14-18 kms in South-western Eritrea. The Asmara regime denounced the attack simply citing Ethiopia’s press statement without providing any details.
Another attack followed two days later, as reported then by Reuters’ correspondent in Addis, Aaron Maasho, who cited an unnamed ‘senior Ethiopian official’ as saying that: “We’ve carried out further attacks on targets inside Eritrea. This time it’s in the north section around Badme……We were once again successful. This strike was part of our plan to take proportional measures that included the (earlier) attacks in Eritrea’s southeast’’.
The story of additional attacks was immediately discounted by a senior official at the Ethiopia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs as ‘totally false’, while Asmara kept its silence.
However, it was learnt latter that ENDF had indeed conducted additional attacks on March 17 at dawn in the Eritrean side of the northern border. The attacks were intended to destroy routes used by Eritrean troops and affiliated Ethiopian rebels to sneak into Ethiopian territory and kidnap mine workers.
ENDF didn’t fully withdraw after the March 17 attacks rather seized strategic locations inside Eritrea an anticipation of a retaliatory attack from Eritrea.
Eritrea’s March 16 statement that it ‘shall not entertain and will not be entrapped by [the military attack]’ was considered as an indicator the military power balance in the region and also its apprehension that an escalation of the conflict might give excuse to Ethiopia to launch a major offensive to bring a regime-change in Asmara.
The absence of President Isais’s Afeworki in office, due to medical treatments outside the country, for most of the past two months, probably contributed to the delay of a military response from Eritrea.
Nonetheless, Eritrean army reportedly escalated its kidnapping of mine workers in northern Ethiopia, in an apparent effort to show its defiance to Ethiopian incursion.
However, the Eritrean president who is officially back in Asmara after weeks of rumor about his death might have felt compelled to takeover the areas captured last week to assert his authority in the army, an informed source speculated.
The 2000-3000 strong elite force, however, failed to surprise ENDF forces last Saturday, May 26. ENDF held its ground, while the Eritrean forces fled without being able to make an organized retreat. Despite hours long battle, ENDF suffered ‘minimal loses’, while the Eritrean units were ‘practically destroyed’, a military official said emphatically. Yet, he was unwilling to give exact numbers.
The clash apparently didn’t involve combat aircrafts, as officers at the Ethiopian Air Force were not alerted on that date.
Neither country officially commented on the last weekend’s clash. While the Asmara government might have felt there is nothing to talk about, an Ethiopian official said ‘let [the Eritreans] make it public if they want, then we will have much to say’ – apparently suggesting to captured Eritrean troops and equipment.
However, it is probable that Ethiopian officials are not comfortable making public a clash inside Eritrea and, even worse, in the Badme area, for fear that it might trigger a media coverage for Eritrea’s claim that Ethiopia ‘occupied’ the Badme area. A claim that appeals to some media and diplomats unfriendly to Ethiopia.
It should be noted area that Eritrea’s army is supposed to stay 25kms away from the Ethio-Eritrean common border, as it is designated a demilitarized zone by the June 2000 Algiers agreement. The area is to be patrolled by the UN troops until the Ethio-Eritrean Border Commission demarcates the border on the ground, according to the agreement. However, the Asmara regime forced the UN troops to leave, while the Commission dissolved itself after declaring it has ‘virtually demarcated’ the border.
As ENDF withdrew from Eritrean soil in 2000 on the ground that it would be demilitarized, thus preventing Asmara from hostile acts, it has legitimate grounds to re-capture the area given Eritrea’s provocations and the absence of UN troops.
This years’ incidents in the northern area are the first major military clashes to take place in the Badme area since the 1998-2000 war between Ethiopia and Eritrea, which the later started. Ethiopia reported to have lost slightly above 17 thousand troops in that war, though the International Crisis Group (ICG) estimates the combined loss of the two countries at about 70,000.
Consequently, in 2002, the Ethio-Eritrean Border Commission(EEBC) issued a decision, which counts as border delimitation, that divided the 40 km long Badme district into two comparable areas, though the town is awarded to Eritrea.
Though the decision is unpopular in Ethiopia, the parliament adopted in 2004 a 5-point resolution accepting the ruling ‘in principle’, yet demanding the demarcation process be conducted ‘according to international norms’ and also a negotiation to resolve outstanding issues ‘in a give and take’ manner. What Ethiopia wants to negotiate on has always been a subject of speculation, as the government refused to disclose its negotiation strategy, except that a sustainable peace is the objective.
On the other hand, Eritrea continued to breach the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement and elements of the Algiers Agreement by engaging in a range of activities to destabilize Ethiopia, an allegation corroborated by UN reports.