Eritrean Defence Forces

The Eritrean Defence Forces military role stems from Eritrea's strategic geographical location. It is located on the Red Sea with a foothold on the Straits of Bab al-Mandeb.

Military of Eritrea
Flag of Eritrea.svg
Service branchesEritrean Army
Eritrean Air Force
Eritrean Navy
Commander-in-ChiefPresident Isaias Afewerki
Minister of DefenceGeneral Sebhat Ephrem
Military age17 Years Old
Conscription18 Months
Available for
military service
1,985,023 males, age 18-40[3](2004 est.),
1,980,987 females, age 18-40[3](2004 est.)
Fit for
military service
1,599,979 males, age 18-40[3](2004 est.),
1,590,899 females, age 18-40[3](2004 est.)
Active personnel320,000 [1]
Reserve personnel500,000 [2]
Deployed personnel0 (2014 est.)
Percent of GDP20.9% (2009 est.) US$ 220.1 million
Foreign suppliers Iran
 Saudi Arabia
Related articles
HistoryMilitary history of Eritrea Eritrean War of Independence
Hanish Islands Crisis
Eritrean–Ethiopian War
Djiboutian–Eritrean border conflict
2013 Eritrean Army mutiny
Battle of Tsorona
RanksMilitary ranks of Eritrea


Military history in Eritrea stretches back for thousands of years; during ancient times up until the current day, the society of Eritreans has dealt with war and peace. During the kingdom of Medri Bahri, the military fought numerous battles against the invading forces of the Abyssinians to the south and the Ottoman Turks at the Red Sea.[4]

In the 16th century the port of Massawa was used by the Ottomans to protect sea lanes from disruption, while more recently it was used by the Italians during their colonial occupation. The kingdom of Medri Bahri was dissolved and the Colony of Eritrea was founded by the Italians in 1890, shortly after the opening of the Suez Canal. When Italian troops occupied Ethiopia in 1936, Eritrean native soldiers (known as Askaris or Banda, the latter denotes their "betrayal" and service for the enemy) supported the invading force. However, this was reversed by British and Ethiopian troops in 1941. The Eritrean infantry battalions and cavalry squadrons of the "Regi Corpi Truppe Coloniali" (Royal Colonial Corps) saw extensive service in the various Italian colonial territories between 1888 and 1942.

During the war for Eritrea's independence rebel movements (the ELF and the EPLF) used volunteers. In the final years of the struggle for independence, the EPLF ranks grew to 110,000 volunteers (some 3% of the total population).


The Eritrean Defence Forces are among the largest in Africa alongside those of Egypt, Algeria, and Morocco. The size of Eritrea's population is small, particularly when compared to its neighbors. During peacetime the military of Eritrea numbers approximately 45,000[5] with a reserve force of approximately 250,000.[6]

National serviceEdit

Every able bodied man and woman is required to serve ostensibly for 18 months. In this time they receive six months of military training and the balance is spent working on national reconstruction projects. This is outlined in both the Constitution of Eritrea and Proclamation 82 issued by the National Assembly on 1995-10-23.[7] However, the period of enlistment may be extended during times of national crisis and the typical period of national service is considerably longer than the minimum. This program allegedly aims to compensate for Eritrea’s lack of capital and to reduce dependence on foreign aid, while welding together an ethnically diverse society, half Christian and half Muslim, representing nine ethnic groups.[8]

Military training is given at the Sawa Defence Training Centre and Kiloma Military Training Centre. Students, both male and female, are required to attend the Sawa Training Centre to complete the final year of their secondary education, which is integrated with their military service. If a student does not attend this period of training, he or she will not be allowed to attend university - many routes to employment also require proof of military training. However, they may be able to attend a vocational training centre, or to find work in the private sector. At the end of the 1½-year national service, a conscript can elect to stay on and become a career military officer. Conscripts who elect otherwise may, in theory, return to their civilian life but will continue to be reservists. In practice, graduates of military service are often chosen for further national service according to their vocation - for example, teachers may be compulsorily seconded for several years to schools in an unfamiliar region of the country. According to the Government of Eritrea, "The sole objective of the National Service program is thus to cultivate capable, hardworking, and alert individuals."[1]

Eritrean conscripts are used in non-military capacities as well. Soldiers are often used as supplemental manpower in the country's agricultural fields picking crops, though much of the harvested food is used to feed the military rather than the general population.[9]

Branches of the EDFEdit

The Eritrean Defence Forces (EDF) are composed of three branches: Air Force, Army, and Navy. The Army is by far the largest, followed by the Air Force and Navy. The Commander-in-Chief of the EDF is the President of Eritrea.

The Minister of Defence oversees the EDF on a day-to-day basis.


  1. ^ a b "In Eritrea, youth frustrated by long service". Retrieved 1 March 2007.
  2. ^ "Eritrea | War Resisters' International". Retrieved 27 October 2014.
  3. ^ "CIA - World Factbook -- Eritrea". Central Intelligence Agency. 28 October 2009. Retrieved 10 November 2009.
  4. ^ Yohannes, O. (1991). Eritrea: A Pawn in World Politics. University of Florida Press. p. 31. ISBN 9780813010441. Retrieved 27 October 2014.
  5. ^ Killion, Tom (1998). Historical Dictionary of Eritrea. The Scarecrow Press. ISBN 0-8108-3437-5.
  6. ^ "Asmara's Finest". Retrieved 4 September 2006.
  7. ^ "Eritrea". Archived from the original on 27 September 2007. Retrieved 13 October 2006.
  8. ^ Connell, Dan (September 1997). "Eritrea". Archived from the original on 18 September 2006. Retrieved 19 September 2006.


Further readingEdit

  • Warner, Jason (October 2013). "Eritrea's military unprofessionalism and US security assistance in the Horn of Africa". Small Wars & Insurgencies. 24 (4).

External linksEdit

Eritrea colonial history, Eritrean infantry and cavalry, ascari pictures/photos galleries and videos.