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Eritrea: A country that passed through thick and thin Part II

The relentless efforts on the part of the Eritrean people to find peaceful solution to the Eritrean case didn’t bear fruit. They even went all the way to New York to present their cases at the United Nations and met with deaf ears. The utter ignorance of the international community to the rightful question of the Eritrean people led to thirty years bloody war compelling the people to dearly pay human and material sacrifices. Sacrifices that began from few months from the beginning of the armed struggle.

The armed struggle for independence that was triggered by Hamid Idris Awate in September 1, 1961, at Adal Mountain did not take long to attract Eritrean youths from all walks of life including those who were living outside the country. The armed struggle which began with eleven fighting men increased double folds by 1962. And then after the Eritrean youths began to flock to the field in large numbers to join the armed struggle and with that the liberation fighters turned into formidable army in few years of time.

By 1966 the Eritrean liberation fighters turned into full fledged combat army and began to challenge the occupation forces. The frustration and terror on the part of the enemy forces intensified year by year and were resorted to mass killings, burning villages and ransacking property. The more atrocity the enemy committed, however, didn’t deter the Eritrean people from joining the armed struggle. In fact the number of Eritrean youths joining the armed struggle grew by the day and inflicts heavy human and material damage on the occupation forces. The more the liberation forces grew in number and combat capacity the more the enemy gets frustrated and takes desperate indiscriminate actions against innocent Eritreans.

Every attack by the liberation forces against the enemy was answered by reprisal, often burning villages, massacring innocent civilians. That resulted women, children and the old to fled their villages and seek refuge in Sudan and some elsewhere in the world. The mass killing of innocent Eritrean at Ona, Weki-Duba, She’ib, and in others villages are examples of the brutality of the Ethiopian occupation forces.

All the atrocities and crimes perpetrated against the Eritrean people and the silence of the international community did not hamper the advance of the Eritrean liberation fighters. In fact every crime of the Ethiopian regimes further emboldened the commitment of the Eritrean people.

The upper hand of the Eritrean liberation fighters, however, was reversed by the interference of the then Soviet Union in 1977. The Soviet Union provided the Derg regime with massive modern weaponry including heavy artillery, naval vessels, and jet fighters. And with that the balance of power shifted towards the Derg regime and the EPLF decided to conduct strategic withdrawal. During that time the Derg regime was observed boasting that the end of the Eritrean revolution is nearing. Still the confidence and determination of the Eritrean people was intact and visionary. They new the strategic withdrawal was in the final analysis to their advantage. And indeed it was.

The EPLF from its trenches in Sahel foiled successive offensives of the Derg regime and immerged victorious. The notable invasion that broke the moral of the Derg and the will power of its army was the six invasion (Keih Kokeb invasion).  The Derg regime took some time to prepare for this invasion with human and material resources. It deployed what it called its best army both in number and training and massive heavy artillery support and air power. It was determined to see the end of the Eritrean revolution and many from the international community believed it. That was, however, short lived.

The defeat of the Derg regime in the six offensive was also a turning point in the history of the Eritrean revolution. The EPLF shifted from defensive into offensive power. One of the big initiatives the EPLF took in its offensive measures was the demise of the Nadew Command. Nadew Command had been stationed there for nine years and was considering itself as an indomitable army. However, with the lightening offensive of the EPLF from 17 to 19 March 1988 the enemy was annihilated. Its main base Afabet was liberated and 18 thousand from the 20 thousand of the enemy soldiers had been killed and, wounded and taken prisoners. And for the first time three Soviet officers, two Colonels and one Lieutenant, were taken prisoners. The military hardware of the enemy including BM 21 rocket launchers and 130 mm canons became the property of the EPLF.

The victory was as the result of the nine years continuous resistance and military confrontation. The enemy trenches that were seemingly un-penetrable until 1988 were demolished within two days. The enemy was unable to defend its position that had been its strong hold for nine years. Its inability to defend its stronghold revealed its diminishing power. To the contrary the EPLF emerged more powerful and increased its capacity with the weaponry it snatched from the enemy. After Nadew the Halhal front was demolished. The new trenches of the EPLF combatants were built on the doors of Keren, in Meshalit. The enemy was forced to retreat from Akordet, Barentu and Tesenei towns. It also brought soldiers from all over Ethiopia and tried, until it gets exhausted, to penetrate the Meshalit, Rora-Mensae, and Reisi-Adi trenches. And it was to no avail except to loose 60 thousand of its forces.

The Derg regime furious from its defeat at Afabet resorted to yet another cruel act of repression against innocent civilians. In 12 May 1988, 400 innocent Eritreans were massacred in Shieb. It continued burning villages and ransacking property in Shebah, Northern Red Sea, Godeiti, Rora-Mensae, etc. That all contributed to its fast demise and emboldening the determination of the Eritrean people.

The renowned British historian and journalist Basil Davidson, who had the chance to witness the meticulously executed Nadew Operation, compared it with the battle of Dien Bien Phu. The battle of Dien Bien Phu was a famous battle of the Indochina war between the French Far East Regiment Corps and Vietnamese Viet Minh communist revolutionary forces between March and May 1954.

The battle was culminated in a huge French defeat and effectively ended French occupation in that part of the world. What Basil Davidson tried to compare Nadew Operation with that of Dien Bien Phu was that the similarity of the severeness of the battles and their end results. Like that of the battle of Dien Bien Phu, the Nadew Operation brought about the beginning of the end of the Derge regime’s occupation of Eritrea and for that matter its rule in Ethiopia. Operation Nadew and its success in demolition the enemy’s will of fighting, moral and capacity has been a testimony for excellent planning and execution of the military leaders of the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front and the high moral and determination of the liberation fighters to do the job. The EPLF military leaders have proved that their planning and execution quality had out maneuvered the “best” generals of the Derge regime and their Soviet advisors. The calculated operation at Ad-Shirum where the Derge’s tanks were blocked and destroyed is one of the highly thought and executed combat plans of the EPLF military leaders. The operation had taken the world by surprise and the major media outlets of the world began to talk about the operation in particular and the revolution for Eritrean independence in general. With this operation the Derge regime was defeated both militarily and diplomatically for the EPLF became a head line in many media and international forums.

Yet another significant turning point in the history of struggle for independence came in 1990. The famous Operation Fenkil that rooted out the enemy soldiers from the Port city of Massawa and cut its supply route. Fenkil Operation was practically the end of the Derg regime in Eritrea. It was only a matter of time that the Eritrean people become free from the yokes of colonialism once and for all.

Beginning on February 8, 1990 the EPLF forces began combined offensive both from the sea and land by cutting of the critical supply route from the Asmara garrison. The surprise attack stunned the Ethiopian military and by the following afternoon the EPLF forces were in the suburbs of Massawa. On the third day of the offensive, February 10, 1990, the Eritrean forces stormed the naval base annihilating the seemingly huge Ethiopian navy that has been stationed there for years. The capture of Massawa was a milestone for the final assault of the EPLF forces in its advance for the capital Asmara.

May 1991, Friday morning, was the final day of the history of occupation. Asmara saw its sons and daughters entering the capital. Asmara residents realized that its liberation fighters entered Asmara and in a spontaneous outburst of happiness and relief, Asmarinos flung open their doors and rushed into the streets to dance in jubilation and meet their heroes and heroines. The flamboyance continued for weeks.

Finally Eritrea and the Eritrean people got what they deserved and freedom they fought for years and paid dearly.
Happy Independence Day!

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