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Development of the Eritrean People’s Struggle in the Field (1961-65)

In the beginning the number of the freedom fighters in the field was very small. Hamid Idris Awate had launched the struggle with only six other individuals carrying six old rifles. Later, many of the ex-bandits joined Hamid Idris Awate and after 1962 Eritreans recruited in the Sudanese army began joining the armed struggle, which lead to the advancement of the struggle both in number and military techniques. Tahir Salim Ezaz was one of the soldiers who joined the struggle from the Sudanese army and was the one working with the Higher Committee of the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF) in Cairo to propagate for the support of the people to the struggle and in recruiting soldiers from the Sudanese army to join the struggle. In July 1962, Hamid Idris Awate was martyred due to illness and Tahir Salim began leading the army from Kessela, Sudan. At first Mohammed Idris Haji was leading the army from within the field and later after he was martyred in the battle of Anseba, he was replaced by Omer Abedella (Abuteyara) and later the latter was replaced by Abubeker Mohammed Idris. After Abubeker was martyred, the units didn’t have any supervisor in the field as a result they all were governed by Tahir Salem from Sudan.

In the early days of the struggle, the basic tactic was to attack and withdraw and confronting the enemy wasn’t easy as a result the army divided into groups of six individuals were staying around rivers of Barka and Gash to execute the task. Later with the increase in the number of soldiers, in1963 the teams began their movement in a groups of 20 to 30 members throughout the former Barka province. Despite the increasing number, there was shortage of weapons, one rifle was used by three to four soldiers and many returned to their homes frustrated by the situation.

Till 1964, many of the operations were carried out by the former members of the local police and the weapons used by the fighters were taken from the police and some captured from the enemy. But with time many weapons were captured from the enemy and some of the successful battles in which many weapons were captured include: the battle of Anseba in December 1963, the operation of Haikota in October 1963, the battle of Gengeren in December 1963 and the battle of Tegorba in March 1964, with those victories cames the theme “attacking the enemy with its own weapons”.

The army in the bushes was expanding both in number of recruits from abroad and the country and materially from the captured weaponry of the enemy and the struggle was gaining momentum. Despite the army’s victories, there was no unity among the fighters due to lack of adequate leadership that inculcates the army as the shield of the people.  The youth that joined the struggle driven by feelings of nationality and to free their people from the oppression of colonization did not find strong leadership.   As a result many became influenced by the ethnic and religious differences created by the leadership.

In the early days of the struggle, the active participants of the struggle were former bandits, the former police members and those that joined the struggle from the Sudanese army, in general those that had good knowledge of the military were the active participants. And majority of those had the same ideology as the leaders which relay on ethnicity and religion and this lead to further division among the army. The differences were widening both among the members and the leadership, everyone was working for his own reputation and power, which blocked the army from uniting.

To be continued \

Source: “Tarik Bretawi Kalsi Hzbi Ertra”

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