Eritrean Defence Forces

The Eritrean Defence Forces (EDF) (Tigrinya: ሓይልታት ምክልኻል ኤርትራ) are the defence forces of Eritrea, composed of three branches: Eritrean Army, Eritrean Air Force and Eritrean 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. Their military role stems from Eritrea's strategic geographical location, located on the Red Sea with a foothold on the Bab-el-Mandeb strait.

Eritrean Defence Forces
ሓይልታት ምክልኻል ኤርትራ
Flag of Eritrea.svg
National flag and ensign
Service branchesEritrean Army
Eritrean Air Force
Eritrean Navy
Commander-in-ChiefIsaias Afewerki
Minister of DefenceGeneral Filipos Woldeyohannes
Chief of StaffGeneral Filipos Woldeyohannes
Military age18 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 personnel200,000[1]
Reserve personnel500,000 [2]
BudgetUS$ 220.1 million (2005 est.)
Percent of GDP20.9% (2009 est.)
Foreign suppliers China
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
Tigray War
RanksMilitary ranks of Eritrea



Military history in Eritrea stretches back for thousands of years; from ancient times to present day, the society of the Eritreans have dealt with both 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]

During 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 "Regio Corpo 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).[5][citation needed]

Independence (1991–present)Edit

During the first two decades of independence, the EDF formally had the power to detain and arrest civilians, and used this power to help police detain and arrest civilians, which systematically happened for arbitrary reasons. Together with police, EPLF members and government officials, the EDF carried out widespread torture of Eritreans.[6]

Military-run prisons included the underground Track B (or Tract B) in the west of Asmara, holding 2000 detainees; Adi Abeto near Asmara; Wi'a, 32 km south of Massawa, for holding military prisoners (escaped conscripts and draft evaders) and members of unauthorised religions; Mitire, in north-eastern Eritrea for religious prisoners; Haddis Ma'askar, mostly underground, near the Sawa military base; Ala Bazit in a desert next to the Ala mountains; and Mai Dima near Berakit Mountain for Kunama detainees.[6]

Tigray WarEdit

In the Tigray War, the EDF was attributed the main responsibility for the extrajudicial killing of hundreds of civilians in the Aksum massacre, that mainly took place on 28–29 November 2020 in Aksum, according to investigations by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.[7][8] As of 26 February 2021, just after the publication of the Amnesty International report, Al Jazeera English had not received responses from Eritrean officials, but commented that the Eritrean Minister of Information had stated in January 2021 that "the rabid defamation campaign against Eritrea [was] on the rise again".[9] Nevertheless, a study by Ghent University shows that a majority of the 151 claimed massacres analysed in the Tigray war were carried out by EDF soldiers.[10]


The EDF was led from 1991[citation needed] by Ogbe Abraha, until 2000, when he was dismissed for his participation in the G-15 group of ministers who called for political change in Eritrea. A prison guard stated that Ogbe died in prison in 2002 from asthma.[11][12] As of 2014, the Chief of Staff is Filipos Woldeyohannes.[13]


The Eritrean Defence Forces are considerably small when compared to the largest in Africa such as 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[14] with a reserve force of approximately 250,000.[15]

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.[16] 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.[17]

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."[18]

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.[19]

People's MilitiaEdit

In 2012. the government created People's Militia (known natively as the "Hizbawi Serawit"), to provide additional military training to civilians and assist in development work. Many elderly citizens have been forced to join. Its organizational structure is set up by profession and/or geographic. It serves as a form of national service.[20] In 2013, it was led by Brigadier General Teklai Manjus.[21]


  1. ^
  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. ^
  6. ^ a b Tronvoll, Kjetil (22 July 2009). "The Lasting Struggle for Freedom in Eritrea – Human Rights and Political Development, 1991–2009" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 13 February 2021. Retrieved 13 February 2021.
  7. ^ "The massacre in Axum". Amnesty International. 26 February 2021. Archived (PDF) from the original on 26 February 2021. Retrieved 27 February 2021.
  8. ^ "Ethiopia: Eritrean Forces Massacre Tigray Civilians". Human Rights Watch. 5 March 2021. Archived from the original on 8 March 2021. Retrieved 9 March 2021.
  9. ^ "Killings in Axum by Eritrea troops 'may amount to war crimes'". Al Jazeera English. 26 February 2021. Archived from the original on 15 March 2021. Retrieved 15 March 2021.
  10. ^ Annys, S., Vanden Bempt, T., Negash, E., De Sloover, L., Nyssen, J., 2021. Tigray: Atlas of the humanitarian situation
  11. ^ "Six Eritrean political leaders have died in prison: ex-guard". Asmarino. 7 May 2010. Archived from the original on 2 July 2021. Retrieved 3 July 2021.
  12. ^ "General Ogbe Abraha". Amnesty International. 27 September 2019. Archived from the original on 2 July 2021. Retrieved 3 July 2021.
  13. ^ "Eritrea Appoints New Chief of Staff". 19 March 2014. Retrieved 13 June 2021.
  14. ^ Killion, Tom (1998). Historical Dictionary of Eritrea. The Scarecrow Press. ISBN 0-8108-3437-5.
  15. ^ "Asmara's Finest". Retrieved 4 September 2006.
  16. ^ "Eritrea". Archived from the original on 27 September 2007. Retrieved 13 October 2006.
  17. ^ Connell, Dan (September 1997). "Eritrea". Archived from the original on 18 September 2006. Retrieved 19 September 2006.
  18. ^ "In Eritrea, youth frustrated by long service". Retrieved 1 March 2007.
  20. ^ (PDF) Missing or empty |title= (help)
  21. ^ "Eritrea - People's Army". Retrieved 6 July 2021.


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