Table of Contents.....Next Section.....Prev SectionEthiopia: The Armed Forces ~a HREF="/et_00_00.html#et_05_02"

The Armed Forces

In mid-1991 the Ethiopian armed forces, with about 438,000 personnel in uniform, constituted one of the largest and best-equipped militaries in sub-Saharan Africa. The defense establishment included the 230,000-member conscript army, supplemented by the 200,000-member People's Militia; the air force, with a personnel strength of 4,500; and the navy with, 3,500, with a personnel strength of which included a marine contingent. Not included in these figures were the 9,000-member Mobile Emergency Police Force and an unknown number of border guards. In addition to its duties as protector of the country's territorial integrity, the armed forces engaged in internal security and counterinsurgency operations against the government's political opponents.

Ethiopia: The 1987 Constitution and the Armed Forces ~a HREF="/et_00_00.html#et_05_02"

The 1987 Constitution and the Armed Forces

The constitution, which took effect on February 22, 1987, made several explicit references to the history, missions, and organization of the armed forces. The preamble took note of Ethiopia's "great victory at Adwa over [Italy's] modern colonialist army" and recalled that "the army, being an integral part of the people . . . [laid] . . . the foundations of the new people's system by eliminating the monarchy and taking various revolutionary steps." Chapter 4 of the constitution was devoted to defense issues. It called for the government, through its defense force, to defend and safeguard the revolution, and it reminded the people that these duties were their responsibilities. Accordingly, the constitution stated that the government would implement national service, and in a later chapter it stipulated that "national military service is the right and obligation of every Ethiopian. Its implementation shall be decided on by law."

In terms of civilian control of the armed forces, the constitution stated that the highest body in the government, the National Shengo (National Assembly), was responsible for determining defense and security policy and for declaring states of war and peace. Subordinate to this body was the Council of State, charged with implementing decisions of the National Shengo. The president of the Council of State was also the president of Ethiopia and commander in chief of the armed forces. The Council of State was empowered to establish a national-level Defense Council (whose duties and responsibilities were not, however, spelled out). The president chaired the Defense Council and appointed its members. He also was entitled to "appoint senior state, civil, and military ranks."

Ethiopia: Command and Force Structure ~a HREF="/et_00_00.html#et_05_02"

Command and Force Structure

Political requirements largely determined the military's organizational structure in the first years after the 1974 revolution. Beginning in 1977, the military adopted Soviet command procedures, which reflected Moscow's influence. It should be pointed out, however, that Mengistu made all major military decisions in his capacity as commander in chief of the armed forces.

Military policy and all important decisions emanated from PMAC committees designated to deal with political and military affairs, defense, militia affairs, and security. The Council of Ministers, through the ministries of defense, interior, and public and national security, administered national security policy. The armed forces chain of command ran from the PMAC through the Ministry of Defense to the chiefs of staff of the army, air force, and navy and through the Ministry of Interior to the chief of the People's Militia. Service commanders, who operated from individual headquarters without an intermediate chairman, reported directly to Mengistu. Four regional commanders coordinated joint operations.

In August 1977, the PMAC established the National Revolutionary Operations Command (NROC) in response to unrest in the armed forces, political resistance from leftist opponents of the regime, and the deteriorating situation in Eritrea and the Ogaden. The NROC replaced the revolution and development committees founded earlier in 1977 to mobilize militia units on a regional basis and to direct regional security operations against "reactionaries." Although the new command initially coordinated the recruiting, training, and equipping of the People's Militia, it eventually emerged as the central command structure and assumed sweeping civilian and military powers. Headed by a twenty-eight-member council--consisting of representatives from the PMAC, the Council of Ministers, the Provisional Office for Mass Organization Affairs (POMOA), and the official All-Ethiopia Trade Union, as well as the services' chiefs of staff--the NROC assumed command of the armed forces and responsibility for commandeering resources, public utilities, and manpower for the war effort. Mengistu served as its chairman.

In December 1977, the PMAC also created the Supreme Military Strategic Committee (SMSC) to formulate counterinsurgency strategy for Eritrea and the Ogaden and to direct military operations elsewhere in the country. Subsequently, the SMSC assumed responsibility for improving the armed forces' technical efficiency. The SMSC included eight Soviet, three Cuban, and seven Ethiopian representatives.

In April 1983, the government established the National Defense and Security Council, which was empowered to devise the country's military and civilian defense policies. This council included the head of state, the secretary general of the PMAC, and the ministers of defense, interior, and public and national security. The council's goal was to improve defense strategies and coordination among the army, the People's Militia, and the civilian population in times of war or natural disaster.

Ethiopia: Army ~a HREF="/et_00_00.html#et_05_02"


Constituting about 97 percent of the uniformed services, the army was the backbone of the armed forces. In early 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: Air Force ~a HREF="/et_00_00.html#et_05_02"

Air Force

Ethiopian military aviation dates from 1929, when Tafari Mekonnen (before he came to the throne as Haile Selassie) hired two French pilots and purchased four French biplanes. By the time of the Italian invasion of 1935, the air force had four pilots and thirteen aircraft. After World War II, Haile Selassie authorized the expansion of the air force. In 1947 he named a Swedish general as air force commander and contracted for a Swedish training team, equipped with eighteen Saab trainers and two squadrons of Saab-17 light bombers, to develop the air force. A Swedish officer commanded the air force until 1962, at which time Brigadier General Asefa Ayene assumed command.

The 1953 United States-Ethiopian Mutual Defense Assistance Agreement resulted in the delivery of a squadron of F-86 jet fighters in 1960. Beginning in 1966 and continuing until the early 1970s, the United States delivered Northrop F-5A/B/E fighters, which became the mainstays of the air force until the late 1970s. Beginning in 1977, the Soviet Union supplied aircraft and instructors to Ethiopia.

In early 1991, some 4,500 officers and airmen operated approximately 150 combat aircraft, most of them Soviet- manufactured fighter-bombers. A small number of the aircraft were transports and armed helicopters. The air force's tactical organization included seven fighter-ground attack squadrons, one transport squadron, and one training squadron. Approximately seventy-nine helicopters performed reconnaissance, transport, and ground support missions. Military analysts generally considered the air force competent. During the Ogaden War, the air force quickly destroyed its Somali counterpart. By the late 1980s, the air force had become vital to the Mengistu regime's war effort in northern Ethiopia. According to an Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF) spokesman in the United States, the air force was almost singlehandedly preventing the EPLF from expelling the army from Eritrea (see The Eritreans, this ch.). In fact, most rebel organizations in north-central Ethiopia confined their activities to nighttime because of the daytime threat posed by the air force.

Apart from its performance as a military unit, the air force often has been involved in antigovernment activities. In May 1989, for example, several senior air force officers participated in a coup attempt against Mengistu. The purge that followed this action decimated the service's leadership ranks. Mengistu not only replaced many senior officers but also temporarily grounded the air force. Within a few weeks, the combat victories of the rebels forced Mengistu to rescind his grounding order. By 1991 it was evident that the air force was suffering from low morale and that internal divisions continued to plague its units.

The air force's command headquarters was south of Addis Ababa at Debre Zeyit, the site of the major air base, training center, and maintenance workshop. Other air bases were at Asmera, Bahir Dar, Azezo, Goba, Dire Dawa, and Jijiga. (A base at Mekele had been captured by the Tigray People's Liberation Front in 1989.)

Ethiopia: Navy ~a HREF="/et_00_00.html#et_05_02"


In 1958 the Ethiopian navy became an autonomous branch of the armed forces, operating as a coast guard within the territorial waters off Eritrea. Until 1974 a small contingent of retired British naval personnel served as advisers and training supervisors. In 1974 Addis Ababa and Oslo signed an agreement whereby Norway organized and trained a modest maritime force. Starting in 1978, Soviet advisers were attached to the Ethiopian navy.

In early 1991, Ethiopia's 3,500-member navy remained modest and had seen little combat. Its inventory included two frigates, eight missile craft, six torpedo craft, six patrol boats, two amphibious craft, and two support/training craft.

Ethiopia's principal naval bases were at Mitsiwa and Aseb. The base at Aseb included a ship-repair facility. In the past, the navy had cooperated with elements of the Soviet fleet operating in the Red Sea. Soviet naval vessels also made frequent calls at Ethiopian ports to resupply and refit. Moreover, the Soviet Union maintained naval facilities in the Dahlak Islands off the coast of Eritrea. The Soviet Union had an anchorage and stationed a naval infantry detachment there; it reportedly also operated intelligence facilities there. After they were expelled from Somalia in 1977 for siding with Ethiopia, Soviet personnel moved a dry dock they had operated at Berbera in Somalia to Aseb and later positioned it off the coast in the Dahlak Islands. At one time, they also had several Il-38 maritime reconnaissance aircraft stationed at Asmera, but by 1989 these aircraft had been moved to Aden because the EPLF had destroyed one of the Soviet aircraft in a daring raid.

Ethiopia: People's Militia ~a HREF="/et_00_00.html#et_05_02"

People's Militia

Proclamation No. 71, issued by the Derg in 1975, established the People's Militia to "safeguard the revolution." The government intended to raise a representative force on a regional basis to carry out police duties, to protect collectivized property and crops, and to enforce the decisions of peasant association tribunals. However, the militia remained largely a rural organization, despite the fact that Addis Ababa had directed urban dwellers' associations (kebeles--see Glossary) and workers' associations to "elect" constituents to serve in the militia.

In May 1976, the government conscripted 30,000 to 40,000 peasants into the People's Militia from the predominantly Amhara areas of Shewa, Welo, and Gojam. After only two weeks of training, Addis Ababa dispatched the militia, armed with World War II-vintage rifles, to Eritrea. There, the militia's mission was to repel the "invading Arab infidel." A month later, Eritrean guerrillas, carrying relatively modern arms, decimated this force by launching a preemptive attack on the Zela Anbesa militia camp. In the spring of 1977, Mengistu reconstituted the People's Militia as the so- called Red Army and authorized its expansion. He armed the militia with modern weapons and ordered all conscripts to undergo a twelve-week basic training and weapons familiarization course at camps in Tatek, Shashemene, Awash, Fiche, and Azezo. The government then deployed People's Militia units to Eritrea and the Ogaden to serve with the regular army. This decision proved to be disastrous because, in fighting against Eritrean guerrillas in northern Ethiopia and against the Somali National Army in the Ogaden, the People's Militia suffered heavy casualties. On occasion, antigovernment elements in the militia experienced bloody confrontations with Ethiopian army regulars (see Morale and Discipline, this ch.). In addition, captured militiamen often denounced the government's military strategy to foreign journalists.

By 1980 the People's Militia numbered 150,000 troops organized into ten divisions. Those assigned to Eritrea were known as the Northern People's Divisions; those in the Ogaden were known as the Eastern People's Divisions. Militia units were usually equipped with AK-47 rifles and rocket- propelled grenade launchers, and most units possessed mortars and antitank weapons. Cuban advisers provided infantry and artillery training.

During the early and mid-1980s, the People's Militia declined in importance, largely because of increased pressure for equal pay and survivor benefits. The May 1983 enactment of the National Military Service Proclamation required all able-bodied Ethiopian men aged eighteen to thirty to undergo six months of military training followed by two years of active duty. After their terms of active duty ended, these men would be placed on reserve status until age fifty. National military service negated the necessity for the large-scale militia call-ups that had been common in the late 1970s. Nevertheless, the government continued training militia recruits, especially from resettlement villages in frontier areas such as Asosa in Welega (see The Politics of Resettlement, ch. 4).

By 1991 the People's Militia numbered about 200,000 but no longer had to contend with a serious threat in the Ogaden. However, the deteriorating situation in Eritrea and Tigray required that militia units support the regular army's counterinsurgency operations. At the end of 1989, Addis Ababa mobilized the militia to stop the advance of the Tigray People's Liberation Front and the Ethiopian People's Democratic Movement. These and several other groups had joined forces and became known as the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front.

Ethiopia: Training ~a HREF="/et_00_00.html#et_05_02"


Systematic military training in Ethiopia began in 1919 when, as regent, Tafari Mekonnen appointed a small group of Russian officers and some Ethiopians who had served in the British-led King's African Rifles to train Ethiopian troops. Some Ethiopian officers subsequently received instruction in France at the Saint-Cyr military academy. Between 1929 and 1935, a Belgian military mission trained the Imperial Bodyguard. In 1934 a Swedish delegation of five officers was invited to Ethiopia to open the Haile Selassie I Military Training Center at Holeta (also known as Genet Military School). Although this training helped Ethiopia field an army to resist the Italian invasion, the development of a modern army started only after liberation from Italian occupation in 1941, with British advisers primarily responsible for the training. Under a 1942 convention, Britain engaged in a ten-year military training mission to Ethiopia. In 1946, however, Addis Ababa diluted British influence somewhat by accepting a new team of Swedish military advisers. In 1953 a United States Military Assistance Advisory Group arrived in Ethiopia to train various branches of the Ethiopian security forces. Four years later, an Indian military mission came to establish and manage the Haile Selassie I Military Academy at Harer.

In 1991 there were five major military schools in Ethiopia, including the Harer Military Academy (formerly known as the Haile Selassie I Military Academy), the Holeta Military Training Center, the Air Force Training Center at Debre Zeyit, and the Naval College in Asmera.

In October 1987, the Ethiopian government announced the opening of the Armed Forces Staff Academy near Addis Ababa. According to an official statement, the academy's student body included senior officers (generals and colonels) from all branches of the armed forces. During the academy's year- long course, officers studied and conducted research on national defense issues. Initially, Soviet personnel staffed the academy's faculty; however, Addis Ababa planned to replace them eventually with Ethiopian instructors.

The Harer Military Academy provided a three-year academic and military course for officer cadets. Military instruction included tactics, political indoctrination, engineering, intelligence, and security. Academic courses included physical and social sciences, public administration, and foreign languages, such as Russian and English. Graduates received commissions as second lieutenants, and they were eligible to receive the equivalent of a bachelor's degree after completing one year of additional study at Addis Ababa University. The Holeta Military Training Center also conferred commissions as second lieutenants on students who had completed courses lasting from six to nine months that were devoted to military subjects. Holeta's officer candidates normally were promising noncommissioned officers (NCOs) or volunteers who lacked a secondary school education.

Before 1974, Harer graduates belonged to a "military aristocracy," which monopolized high-ranking army positions. By contrast, Holeta graduates were reputed to be the products of an inferior education and were considered the "poor cousins" of the officer corps. Few of them ever rose higher than the middle ranks. But after the 1974 revolution, Holeta graduates began to establish their dominance over the army and expelled many Harer graduates, including those who had been members of various armed forces committees at the beginning of the revolution.

Although the two officer training installations had maintained separate facilities and programs, they merged after 1974 and were subsequently operated as branches of the Genet Military Academy. This training complex, initially staffed by Soviet and Cuban instructors, also incorporated advanced infantry, armor, artillery, and communications schools for officers.

The Air Force Training Center at Debre Zeyit offered cadets a four-year course of study and training. Officer candidates, all of whom were volunteers, underwent four months of basic military training and, upon entering the academy, signed a ten-year service contract. Separate curricula led to degrees in aeronautical engineering, electrical engineering, and administration. Graduates received commissions as second lieutenants. Those selected as pilots attended a flight training program at Dire Dawa. In 1984 Dornier, the West German aircraft manufacturer, provided pilot training at Debre Zeyit. Pilots and mechanics also received training in Britain. The air force operated technical schools for enlisted personnel at Debre Zeyit that trained aircraft maintenance and electronics technicians, communications operators, and weapons specialists. Upon entering these courses, which lasted eighteen months to two years, recruits committed themselves to remain on active duty for ten years.

Students at the Naval College in Asmera pursued a fifty- two-month course of instruction that led to a naval science degree and a commission in the navy. The Naval College academic curriculum was broader than the army and air force programs and was supplemented by training at sea. In 1984 some forty-eight ensigns, belonging to the twenty-fourth graduating class, received diplomas; subsequent classes were of comparable size. Some naval officers received training abroad, notably at the naval academy in Leghorn, Italy, and at the Leningrad naval academy in the Soviet Union. The navy maintained training centers in the Mitsiwa area for seamen, technicians, and marines; recruits enlisted for seven years.

Officers received specialized in-service instruction at training centers throughout the country. Most of these centers' staffs included Soviet, East German, and--until Havana's 1989 decision to withdraw its forces from Ethiopia- -Cuban advisers. These advanced schools emphasized preparation for the supervision of technical personnel responsible for maintaining Soviet-supplied weapons, communications equipment, and electronic gear. Senior officers attended a two-month command and leadership course, which, based on Marxist-Leninist principles, stressed the need to develop "political consciousness" in the ranks as well as the technical mastery of weapons and equipment. There also was instruction in international relations and public speaking.

Army recruits underwent twelve weeks of basic training before being assigned to line units or to technical schools for specialized training. The largest technical school was at Genet, where NCOs studied tactics, engineering, logistics, and communications. Genet also offered courses in technical and secondary-level academic subjects to a limited number of students prior to their assignment as NCOs to operational units. Soviet instructors at the Genet armory school taught six-month advanced courses in weapons and vehicle maintenance. The size of each class ranged from 100 to 150 students. Genet also was the training center for women's army corps recruits. The government assigned uniformed political commissars to all units for the political education of enlisted personnel.

Ethiopia: Morale and Discipline ~a HREF="/et_00_00.html#et_05_02"

Morale and Discipline

A patrol boat at the naval base at Mitsiwa

Before the February 1974 unrest that led to the ouster of the emperor, military morale was thought to be high. Although the demands for redress of professional grievances that precipitated the 1974 coup had created doubts about the level of military morale, the public's basic respect for the fighting man and the enduring belief that military life was an avenue of advancement helped sustain the military profession's somewhat diminished stature. Also, when the revolutionary government designated the armed forces as the "vanguard of the revolution," many officers consequently were able to assume senior military and political positions relatively early in their careers. In addition, the pay, benefits, and privileges enjoyed by Ethiopian service personnel gave them an above-average standard of living. Despite the political turmoil that accompanied the establishment of a revolutionary Marxist government, as well as the insecurity caused by purges within the military and the dangers of combat, military life still managed to attract enough volunteers to staff the uniformed services.

However, the uncertainties caused by the events of 1974 and the subsequent turnover in command personnel caused a crisis of confidence that would last until the introduction of large numbers of Soviet and Cuban advisers in training and command positions in the late 1970s. Prolonged exposure to combat and political disaffection contributed to desertion, attacks on officers, and war-zone atrocities. Incompetence among commanders in the field was also a problem. For instance, in 1975 the government tried and executed several officers for indiscipline and for a lack of military judgment resulting in the death of soldiers in battle. From 1976 to 1978, the command leadership crisis grew worse because of the army's rapid expansion. As a result of this growth, junior officers and NCOs often advanced to field- grade rank without adequate preparation. Purges and defections by officers of Eritrean origin were also factors in the poor quality of field leadership. Growing disaffection throughout the army prompted several mutinies by front-line troops, including one at Jijiga in 1977, during which officers and NCOs demanded Mengistu's resignation. Further, the disparity in pay and lack of survivor benefits embittered the People's Militia.

Although the 1978 victory over Somalia in the Ogaden War and the Soviet Union's growing support of the Ethiopian armed forces enhanced morale, troops in war zones still questioned or criticized the government's national security policy. However, a correlation existed between the quality of a unit's training and equipment and the state of its morale. The best-trained and best-equipped units--the air force and the army engineers--also had the highest morale.

During 1978 and 1979, the government reorganized units in Eritrea and the Ogaden in an effort to reduce dissatisfaction and prevent conspiracies. This strategy backfired because many soldiers resented having to leave their original units. The threat of radical land reform that affected the holdings of military personnel also caused bitterness. Additionally, combat units found it difficult to sustain high morale in a war of attrition in Eritrea that permitted few clear-cut victories. After the 1979 government defeat at Nakfa, troops in Asmera distributed antigovernment pamphlets. Western journalists also reported that large numbers of Ethiopian soldiers had switched sides, deserted, or surrendered, sometimes as units, without resistance to the Eritreans. Throughout this period, Ethiopian authorities refused to recognize the existence of the prisoners of war, who numbered about 6,000, held by Eritrean secessionist forces. To make matters worse, Mengistu told combatants who faced capture by the enemy to "die [in battle] or kill yourselves."

Tension between regular army and People's Militia units existed on all fighting fronts. One of the factors that led to the 1977 Jijiga mutiny concerned complaints that the government had issued better weapons, including AK-47 assault rifles, to militia units. For their part, militia personnel complained about low pay, inadequate medical attention, and inferior food. Furthermore, they charged that regulars often refused to give them supporting fire during combined operations.

During the government's large-scale 1982 Red Star campaign in Eritrea, the EPLF victory further lowered the morale of government forces and prompted many Ethiopian army units to mutiny. For example, in late October 1982 the Ninth Brigade, which was serving on the Nakfa front, reported fighting between mutineers and loyal troops at Third Division headquarters. In February 1983, units stationed at Kudo Felasi, near Adi Ugri, also mutinied. There was also unrest among People's Militia conscripts. Throughout the 1982 Red Star campaign, thousands of government troops fled to Sudan to avoid combat.

Over the next few years, a series of battlefield reversals, coupled with the government's refusal to abandon its goal of military victory in Eritrea and Tigray, kept the armed forces demoralized. In October 1986, army officers held prisoner by the EPLF formed the Free Ethiopia Soldiers' Movement. Apart from distributing anti-Mengistu pamphlets in Ethiopia and abroad, the Free Ethiopia Soldiers' Movement sought "to organize men in uniform and prepare them for an overthrow of the government and a search for an alliance with all democratic forces." This organization also called for the creation of democracy in Ethiopia and a peaceful resolution of the Eritrean problem.

The next major mutiny occurred in mid-February 1988, when elements of the Second Revolutionary Army revolted in Asmera. Mengistu responded to this crisis by making a much- publicized sixteen-day tour of units stationed in the north and by ordering the arrest and execution of several NCOs and officers, including at least five generals. Morale fell further after the EPLF won a victory at Afabet in March. By the end of that year, veterans and discontented soldiers, many of whom had war injuries, demonstrated in Addis Ababa to pressure the Mengistu regime to end the war and increase veterans' benefits. The government suppressed the demonstration, killing several men in the process.

Continued battlefield setbacks in Eritrea and Tigray throughout early 1989 demoralized many senior officers who previously had been supporters of Mengistu's military policy in northern Ethiopia. On May 16, members of the armed forces staged a coup to oust Mengistu. With the exception of the minister of defense, Major General Haile Giorgis Habte Mariam, those directly implicated in the coup, or at least not hostile to the decision to oust Mengistu, included the entire army command structure from the chief of staff on down. The commanders of the air force and the first, second, third, and fourth revolutionary armies also supported the coup. After returning to Ethiopia, Mengistu, who had been in East Germany on an official visit, used his Presidential Guard and other loyal military personnel to reestablish his authority. Subsequently, he ordered the arrest or execution of hundreds of senior officers. Mengistu then named many of his political supporters, some of whom lacked any military experience, to replace those who had been purged. Although Mengistu succeeded in eliminating effective opposition in the armed forces (at least for the short term), morale problems continued to plague most military units, especially those assigned to war zones in northern Ethiopia, whose ranks were often filled with teenagers. In late 1989, for example, thousands of government soldiers deserted, and scores of units disintegrated after the TPLF launched a major offensive.

Ethiopia: Manpower Considerations ~a HREF="/et_00_00.html#et_05_02"

Manpower Considerations

Although volunteers made up a large part of the regular army, the government had to rely increasingly on conscripts to fill the lower ranks. In mid-1991 approximately 6 million Ethiopian males aged eighteen to thirty-two were eligible for military service. This number constituted an adequate source of personnel for the country's defense needs and in fact was more than the country could support logistically or train effectively.

Under the National Military Service Proclamation of May 1983, all Ethiopians aged eighteen to thirty were required to undergo six months' military training followed by two years' active service and assignment to reserve status until age fifty. In reality, the national call-up, which was administered by regional military commissars, was selective rather than universal. According to the conscription law, each peasant association or kebele was required to forward lists of eligible recruits to the Ministry of Internal Affairs military commissariat. The ministry then would issue call-up orders, after which the peasant associations were required to ensure that conscripts reported for duty.

The first two national call-ups occurred in May 1984 and January 1985. Each raised about 60,000 recruits. The armed forces used the first group mainly for back-up duties and the second for duty in Eritrea. The EPLF captured many soldiers belonging to the second group around the Nakfa front. The third national call-up, which sought to recruit 120,000 men, took place in December 1985. Growing public disaffection with the wars in northern Ethiopia manifested itself in popular resistance to the call-up. Many young men moved in with relatives outside the kebeles where they were registered. To prevent desertions, the government sent conscripts from Addis Ababa to training camps in outlying regions such as Kefa and Welega and transported Eritrean and Tigrayan recruits by air to Addis Ababa.

After the November 1986 national call-up, which also prompted widespread opposition, the Mengistu regime increasingly had to resort to force to satisfy military manpower requirements. In mid-1989, for example, armed press gangs often roamed the streets of Addis Ababa and other major cities looking for males as young as thirteen years old, or they held families at the local kebele office and then inducted their sons when family members went to the authorities to report their relatives missing. Parents who could afford to do so sent their sons abroad or to remote areas in Ethiopia where chances of escaping the call-up were greater.

A number of debilitating conditions, such as dietary deficiencies, endemic diseases, and illiteracy, often affected the quality of the available manpower. Despite these factors, the average soldier, with proper training and guidance, appeared capable of using modern equipment.

The ratio of officers to enlisted personnel was approximately one to twenty. Officers generally were committed to active service until they retired or were released from duty because of incapacity. Retirement benefits were modest, but officers received many perquisites, particularly in housing and transportation.

At the time of the 1974 overthrow of Haile Selassie, a generational cleavage existed between older, conservative field-grade officers and younger, better-trained, and increasingly radical officers who had joined the military in the 1950s and 1960s. Another factor in these differences was the variety of countries in which Ethiopian officers had been trained. By 1989 this problem had diminished, as an increasing number of officers had the shared experience of being trained by Soviet, East German, or Cuban military advisers. However, opposition to Mengistu and the wars in northern Ethiopia continued to cause cleavages throughout the armed forces.

The officer corps was composed largely of volunteers and included many who had risen from the enlisted ranks. Since the early 1950s, however, a significant proportion of officer candidates had been conscripted into military service for life (or until retired or physically incapacitated) from the upper levels of secondary school graduating classes and from among the most promising first- year university students. Not all of those selected in this manner were suited for military life, and many resented not being allowed to pursue civilian careers. Prior to 1974, an estimated 10 percent of all Ethiopians educated beyond secondary school level were members of the armed forces.

The officers who were among the Derg's original members came largely from the junior-grade ranks. Although many subsequently received promotions to mid-level grades, rank alone did not necessarily indicate an officer's importance. Many lieutenants and captains, for example, received assignments to important government posts. Mengistu himself became a lieutenant colonel only in 1976. In early 1977, be became chairman of the Derg. Starting with Revolution Day 1979, however, he was referred to as "commander in chief." When he appeared in uniform as commander in chief, he wore shoulder insignia identical to those worn by field marshals of the old imperial army.

Up-to-date official information on the ethnic composition of the officer corps was not available in mid-1991. However, in the early 1970s about 65 percent of officers at the rank of lieutenant colonel and above were Amhara, whereas 20 percent were Oromo, the latter proportion having nearly doubled during the previous decade. Below lieutenant colonel, the percentage who were Amhara was 60 percent, while 30 percent were Oromo. Estimates published in the late 1970s suggested that 50 percent of the officer corps was Amhara, 20 percent Tigray, and 30 percent Oromo and Eritrean (see Ethiopia's Peoples, ch. 2).

Many enlisted personnel had joined the military because it offered steady, well-paid employment, service-connected benefits, and the opportunity for advancement. Others enlisted because they could not find suitable work in the cities. Basic pay for the lowest-ranking personnel in the armed forces equaled that of an experienced skilled worker in industry. In the late 1970s, the ethnic composition of the enlisted ranks in the army was about 33 percent Amhara, 33 percent Oromo, and 25 percent Tigray, with the remainder coming from other groups. The proportion of Eritreans serving in the air force and navy was greater than in the army, the result of better access to higher education, which made Eritreans more suited for technical training.

Ethiopia: Defense Costs ~a HREF="/et_00_00.html#et_05_02"

Defense Costs

During World War II, when major military expansion programs began, the government devoted approximately 38 percent of the national budget to defense. From 1948 to 1958, the proportion of the budget dedicated to defense dropped from 27 to 17 percent of the total, not because of a decrease in military expenditures but because the size of the overall national budget had increased sharply. Throughout the 1960s and early 1970s, money for defense remained the largest single item in the budget, varying from 19 to 24 percent of the total funds appropriated for all national programs.

Beginning in the mid-1970s, defense expenditures started to rise. In 1974 Addis Ababa allocated the equivalent of US$80 million for defense, in 1976 US$103 million, and in 1979, US$526 million. By 1987-88 defense expenditures had declined to approximately US$472 million; however, it should be pointed out that between 1977 and 1990, the Soviet Union had provided approximately US$13 billion in military assistance to the Mengistu regime.

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