By Tamrat Nega
Ethiopia is on the verge of effecting regime change in Asmara. Reeling under 14 years of self-imposed, excruciating landlocked status, Ethiopia is expecting to regain the control of the Red Sea port of Assab, if another round of fighting breaks between the two belligerent Horn of Africa countries. Senior military officials of the Ministry of National Defence (MND) here in Addis Ababa are openly speaking of a concerted strategy devised to bring the Eritrean regime to its knees. "If another war flares up between the two countries" pronounces senior military general who spoke on condition of anonymity, that "our forces will launch massive, unprecedented and coordinated ground and air onslaught throughout the territory of the enemy". According to this source, Ethiopian Air Force is poised to hit 100 strategic targets in Eritrea in the first day of the outbreak of a new war between the two adversaries. These targets include "airports, ports, telecommunication facilities, fuel depots, bridges, railways, military command and controls, anti-aircraft batteries and military garrisons and installations".
Officials of the MND are confident that they will bring everything to standstill in Eritrea within few days. "Ethiopia will assert its air supremacy over the skies of Eritrea, crippling Eritrean air force and air defence forces", my source states. Supply lines of the Eritrean forces in the frontline will be cut off and their commanders will be denied the benefit of communicating with their units. With that being the scenario, three Ethiopian mechanized divisions are set to move toward the port city of Assab. Furthermore, the source discloses, "two friendly neighboring countries" are expected to facilitate passage through their countries to the Ethiopian troops thrusting Eritrean territory from the east and northwest on what he described as "diversional fronts".
Ethiopia is also counting on receiving intelligence information and air reconnaissance support from unnamed friendly country which is interested in regime change in Asmara as well. Having won the diplomatic battle, Ethiopia is holding on its guns with the hope that Eritrea may make the wrong move that justifies the implementation of Ethiopia's new military strategy. Eritrea doesn't seem to be giving that opportunity to Ethiopia at the moment, notwithstanding recurrent rhetorical threats.
Top Ethiopian military officials are of the view that the battle with Somali Islamists may not yield the desired results until and unless the stalemate with Eritrea is brought to an end. "More than eighty percent of Ethiopia's military forces are currently tied to the Eritrean theater", reveals the source. Ethiopia wants to maintain a military base in Assab after ousting Issias Afworki from power. The MND is planning to redeploy 50,000 troops from the Eritrea front to Somalia as soon as the war in Eritrea is concluded. The new strategy envisages the establishment of permanent Ethiopian military bases in five strategic locations in Somalia; namely, Berbera, Mogadishu, Kismayo, Baidao and Beletwein, to enhance the long term stability in war-torn Somalia and evolve an enabling conducive environment for regional economic and political integration. According to this source, the essence of the new strategy is to overcome the prevailing "siege paranoia" in Ethiopia.
As per the covert strategy contrived by Ethiopia's top civil and military officers, prominent Eritrean opposition leaders who are currently based in Addis Ababa will declare the formation of an Eritrean Government in exile soon after the outbreak of the fighting.
Landlocked Ethiopia which relies entirely on other countries for shipping and receiving goods from overseas, would like to see a friendly government installed in Asmara – one that is acquiescent to Ethiopia's national interest.
Between May 1998 and June 2000, Ethiopia and Eritrea fought a bitter war over a disputed border town called Badame. The fighting resulted the combined death of more than 100,000 combatants in what is often referred to Africa's first trench war that bore semblance to World War One. The unfinished war between the two belligerent countries continues to divert hundreds of millions of dollars from much needed humanitarian and development projects to military build up at a time when both countries are facing the looming threat of a large scale famine.
As peaceful settlement of the conflict becomes increasingly and hopelessly unattainable and unable to move assets from the Eritrean theatre to Somalia where the Islamists are gaining the upperhand, Ethiopian military generals are venting their anger at the drawing board envisioning various battle plans, scenarios and options.
*Tamrat Nega is an Ethiopian freelance journalist based in Addis Ababa. He can be contacted at:firstname.lastname@example.org
* The author has also published the following artiicle @ WardheerNews:
Meles Proposes a Two-State Solution for Somalia
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