The Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF) numbered about 200,000 personnel as of November 2011 [according to the US State Department], which made it one of the largest militaries in Africa, and tied with Sri Lanka and Taiwan for 22 / 23 / 24 [IISS reports only 135,000 troops]. During the 1998-2000 border war with Eritrea, the ENDF mobilized strength reached approximately 350,000. Since the end of the war, some 150,000 soldiers have been demobilized.
The ENDF continued a transition from its roots as a guerrilla army to an all-volunteer professional military organization with the aid of the US and other countries. Training in peacekeeping operations, professional military education, military training management, counterterrorism operations, and military medicine are among the major programs sponsored by the United States. Ethiopia has one peacekeeping contingent in Liberia. In January 2009, Ethiopian peacekeeping troops had begun deploying in Darfur. When at full strength, the Ethiopian contingent there consisted of 2,500 troops and five attack helicopters.
Constituting about 97 percent of the uniformed services, the army was the backbone of the armed forces. In 1991, the army was organized into five revolutionary armies, which included thirty-one infantry divisions supported by thirty-two tank battalions, forty artillery battalions, twelve air defense battalions, and eight commando brigades. The army had expanded in size from 41,000 in 1974 to 50,000 in 1977, 65,000 in 1979, and 230,000 in early 1991. Ground order of battle was difficult to ascertain because of the army's rapid increase in size, frequent reorganization and redeployment of units, and constant reshuffling within the command structure. Units from the 200,000-member People's Militia augmented army divisions, especially in Eritrea and Tigray. The First Revolutionary Army had headquarters in Harer, the Second Revolutionary Army in Asmera, the Third Revolutionary Army in Kembolcha, the Fourth Revolutionary Army in Nekemte, and the Fifth Revolutionary Army in Gonder.
Ethiopian armored and mechanized units had approximately 1,200 T-54/55 tanks and 100 T-62 tanks, all of Soviet manufacture, and about 1,100 armored personnel carriers (APCs), most of which were of Soviet origin. However, combat losses and constant resupply by the Soviet Union, East Germany, North Korea, and other communist nations reduced the reliability of these estimates. Artillery units possessed a variety of Soviet-manufactured light and medium guns and howitzers, rocket launchers, and heavy mortars. Air defense units had quick-firing antiaircraft guns and surface-to-air missiles.
Because training in maintenance techniques had failed to keep pace with the influx of new equipment, weapons maintenance by the army was poor. Moreover, Ethiopian troops often deployed new weapons systems without understanding how to operate them. During the late 1970s and early 1980s, Ethiopia relied on Soviet and Cuban technicians to maintain military equipment and to provide logistical support. However, because of the reduction in military assistance, spare parts, and Soviet military advisers, as well as the withdrawal of all Cuban troops in the late 1980s, the army's maintenance ability again deteriorated. By 1991 most army equipment was operational only about 30 percent of the time.
Ethiopia made significant purchases of arms from Russia in late 1999 and early 2000 before the May 2000 United Nations arms embargo went into effect. It is likely that much of that equipment suffered battle damage in the war with Eritrea, suggesting that raw numbers alone may overstate the capacity of the defense forces. The Ethiopian army possesses approximately 250 main battle tanks, 400 reconnaissance, armored personnel, and infantry fighting vehicles, 400 pieces of towed artillery, 50 multiple rocket launchers, 370 surface-to-air missiles, and a small number of self-propelled artillery.
The Ethiopian armed forces are undergoing a period of transformation from a militia force to a national body. The Ethiopian National Defence Force (ENDF) grew out of a coalition of former guerrilla armies, mainly the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) and the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front. Officers connected with the TPLF have continued to dominate the military. Although the armed forces have significant battlefield experience, their militia orientation has complicated the transition to a structured, integrated military. Ranks and conventional units were only adopted in 1996. A United States-assisted effort to restructure the military was interrupted by mobilization for the war with Eritrea, when the armed forces grew in a period of months from 100,000 to 250,000 troops, with another 100,000 militiamen serving in support.
In the lead up to the 2005 elections the military expected a change in government and that the military would serve whatever government was elected. He noted that after the election the military understood that the Tigrayan government served itself and only itself. The Ethiopian military conducted a major purge of over 1,000 mostly Oromo officers from the military on ethnically based suspicion of their loyalty to the ethnic Tigrayan-led ruling party. Since the purge in late 2006, Tigrayans constituted 60-70 percent of the officer corps. Soldiers continue in military because they need the jobs to get paid. Nevertheless, they resent the way they are treated and they are unhappy. Before the 2005 election the soldiers voiced their complaints, but since the election they have learned to keep quiet or face discharge from the service or imprisonment.
Ethiopian generals frequently do not command Ethiopian troops in UN peacekeeping deployments. In Liberia, Ethiopian troops were commanded by generals of other countries because none of the Ethiopian generals had attended the prerequisite war colleges which are primarily in the US, and other advanced military training. While Ethiopian commanders have exceptional battlefield experience and are first rate commanders, the lack of academic training will continued to hold back Ethiopian generals from commanding their own troops in UN peacekeeping deployments. The U.S.-initiated Ethiopian Defense Command and Staff College was closed after only two years of training, due to lack of funds.
Through civil affairs and peacekeeping training, the Ethiopians have become one of the largest troop-contributing countries in Africa for PKO operations, varying from second to fourth in force size. They have contributed to operations in Burundi and Liberia, and volunteered troops for Afghanistan and Iraq, though cost was too prohibitive. The ENDF provided force protection in Somalia for African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) troops, in response to Ugandan military requests as well as requests from the African Union.
On 24 December 2006, after months of military buildup, Ethiopia launched a large-scale offensive into Somalia. The result was a rout. The Ethiopian attack produced not only a decisive victory in initial battles in the open countryside but also an unexpected collapse of the Union of Islamic Courts [UIC] in Mogadishu.
CNN reporter Barbara Starr reported that U.S. military camps in Ethiopia were training the ENDF troops that entered Somalia. The report gave the impression that Ethiopia was incapable of conducting Somali operations on its own and was closely directed by the U.S. That infuriated the proud Ethiopian force. It is speculated that one reason for the closures of CJTF-HOA Contingency Operating Locations (COL) Hurso and Bilate may be Ethiopia's sensitivity over the characterization of Ethiopia's military as weak and incapable.
On 25 January 2009 Ethiopia said it had completed the withdrawal of the estimated force of 3,000 Ethiopian troops sent to Somalia more than two years earlier to drive out Islamist extremists and restore the country's transitional federal government to power. The withdrawal of the Ethiopian soldiers leaves security in Somalia to the 3,400-strong African Union force, AMISOM, and about 10,000 government troops. The Ethiopian military strategy post-withdrawal was to station increased numbers of troops along the Somali border to guard against infiltration, while reserving the right to raid in and out of Somalia as they deem necessary to keep al-Shabaab off balance. The fall of Baidoa in south-western Somalia to Al-Shabab, hours after Ethiopian troops left, raised fresh questions about the viability of the Somali government. Baidoa, seat of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), fell to the Islamist group on 26 January 2009.
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