Armed Forces Overview: After the defeat of the military government in 1991, the provisional government disbanded the former national army and relied on its own guerrilla fighters for national security. In 1993, however, the Tigrayan-led government announced plans to create a multi-ethnic defense force. This process entailed the creation of a new professionalarmy and officer classand the demobilization of many of the irregulars who had fought against the military government, although many Tigrayan officers remained in command positions. This transformation was still underway when war with Eritrea broke out in 1998, a development that saw the ranks of the armed forces swell along with defense expenditures. During the course of the war, some commanders and pilots from the former army and air force were recalled to duty. These officers helped turn the tide decisively against Eritrea in 2000, the end of a two-year conflict that resulted in huge losses on both sides. Since then, the failure to secure a peaceful resolution of the border conflict with Eritrea has hampered efforts to reduce the size of the military and its budget, although some reductions have been achieved. Since 2001, Ethiopia has played an increasingly important role in U.S. efforts in the war against terrorism in the Horn of Africa region, a development that has spurred closer relations between the militaries of the two nations.
Foreign Military Relations: In the late 1990s, following the commencement of hostilities with Eritrea, Ethiopia contracted with several hundred personnel from the former Soviet bloc to procure, repair, and operate stocks of weaponry for the army and air force. These contractors, mostly Russian, are believed to have occupied senior command posts, including the head of the air force. In 2000 most were replaced by Ethiopian personnel, and by early 2004, it appeared the few remaining Russians were serving in a technical capacity only. There also have been reports of Israeli technicians stationed with the air force at Debre Zeit. Military relations with neighboring Djibouti, which were close in the late 1990s, have cooled somewhat, largely over a dispute between the two nations about port tariffs and rumors of Ethiopian support for a failed coup attempt in Djibouti in December 2000. In 2002 the United States established the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA), a counterterrorism effort headquartered in Djibouti. The CJTF-HOA’s theater of operations includes both the airspace and land of Ethiopia. In January 2004, as part of the operations of the CJTF-HOA, soldiers from the U.S. Army’s 3d Infantry Regiment established a forward base in rural Ethiopia.
External Threat: The unresolved border dispute with neighboring Eritrea constitutes the major external threat to security and stability in Ethiopia. Ethiopia and Eritrea have been in a state of “cold peace” since the December 2000 truce, the primary bones of contention being the status of the town of Badme and the Irob enclave. Although it seems both nations have little interest in renewing a war neither can afford financially or politically, this consideration has not prevented continued sabre-rattling and political posturing on both sides. About 3,800 troops from the United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea are deployed on the Eritrean side of the border between the two countries in an effort to maintain the fragile peace. Relations with Somalia are of longer-term concern, given their ill-defined and porous border and irredentist sentiment among Somalis that produced a war in 1977–78. Oromo and to a lesser degree Somali insurgents currently operate from Somali territory.
Defense Budget: In the last years of the military regime, defense spending peaked at almost US$1 billion dollars, or nearly 14 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). In the mid-1990s, spending shrank significantly to about US$130 million (or 2 percent of GDP). The onset of war with Eritrea in 1998, however, spurred massive spending to cover capital investments in new weapons systems, and by 2000 defense expenditures exceeded US$830 million (or nearly 11 percent of GDP). Military spending during the war is thought to have averaged at least US$2 million per day. Since the December 2000 peace agreement, spending on defense has fallen by 50 percent, but is still quite high, particularly for such a poor nation. In 2003 a national security policy paper proposed reducing defense spending to 2 percent of GDP (roughly a quarter of the 7.7 percent of GDP, some US$460 million, spent in 2002), but in light of continuing tensions with Eritrea, implementation of this policy has been delayed indefinitely. Ethiopia reportedly is using hard currency from remittances to finance current arms purchases. In 2003 the defense budget was US$405 million.
Major Military Units: 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. Demobilization following the cease-fire of 2000 reduced the armed forces to an estimated 180,000 in 2004. Under the planned reorganization, the military eventually will have three military districts, each with its own headquarters and under the command of army headquarters in Addis Ababa. On paper, each district will have its own corps with two divisions and one mechanized brigade. A strategic reserve of six brigades will be located in Addis Ababa. According to sources, forces around Addis Ababa in 2004 (two divisional formations, each with three brigades) were thought to be well equipped with serviceable main battle tanks and other heavy, mechanized equipment. There are army bases throughout the country, including in Addis Ababa, Bahir Dar, Debre Zeyit, Dire Dawa, Gondar, Gore, and Jijiga.
Major Military Equipment: 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 air force has 48 combat aircraft (including 6 Su-27s, 25 MiG-21MFs, and 13 MiG-23BNs), 25 armed helicopters, and 12 transport helicopters. When Eritrea gained independence in 1993, Ethiopia became a landlocked nation. Most of the small Ethiopian navy was ceded to Eritrea at that time. Ethiopia has no strategic weapons and is a party to nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons treaties. Some stockpiles of chemical weapons used by Ethiopia in the 1978–79 war with Somalia remain, but the weapons are probably useless now.
Military Service: The term of service in the Ethiopian National Defence Force is 16 months, of which 4 months are training. Service is voluntary.
Paramilitary Forces: None.
Foreign Military Forces: As of early 2005, no known foreign military forces were in Ethiopia. The 3,800-member United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) is stationed inside Eritrea. No UNMEE forces are in Ethiopia.
Military Forces Abroad: Nearly 900 Ethiopian soldiers are stationed as United Nations peacekeepers in Burundi, and some 1,800 troops serve as peacekeepers in Liberia.
Police: Reliable estimates on the size of the Ethiopian police force are not available. The budget for public order and security, which covers police, doubled between 1997 and 1999 and is believed to have remained at a high level since that time.
Internal Threat: Sporadic violence has been reported in the northeastern Afar region between the Issa-Somali and the Afar. Ethnic clashes between the Anuak and the Nuer, which drew in people from central Ethiopia (known collectively as “highlanders”), broke out in 2003 in the far western Gambella area, displacing 20 percent of the population and leaving upwards of 1,000 people dead. Accounts of those responsible for the killings include possible involvement of government forces. Since the cease-fire with Eritrea, growing dissent within the Tigray-dominated military has increased, leading to threats of mutiny in 2001 over disputed salary increases. In order to quell any attempts at rebellion, army units considered loyal to the leadership in Addis Ababa have been deployed throughout the country. The army chief of staff and commander of the air force both were dismissed after a June 2001 clash between Ethiopian army units. In 2003 there were unconfirmed reports of air force personnel defecting to Eritrea or seeking asylum in third countries. The Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), created in 1973, is thought to be the primary insurgent force in Ethiopia. Its stated goal is to champion the political and cultural rights of the Oromo people, Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group. Estimates of the size of the OLF vary, but active members may number in the low thousands. The Ogaden National Liberation Army (ONLA), founded in 1984, seeks the right to self-determination for Ethiopian Somalis in the Ogaden region of the southeast. No estimates are available on the size of the ONLA.
Terrorism: Ethiopia is not known to harbor international terrorists. Nonetheless, several terrorist incidents have occurred, most notably the attempted assassination in 1995 of President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt at Bole International Airport, for which the Sudanese government was blamed. Since 2001, Ethiopia has allied itself with the United States in its antiterrorism efforts in the Horn, and its armed forces participate in the U.S.-sponsored Combined Joint Task Force–Horn of Africa antiterrorism force based in Djibouti.
Human Rights: According to the U.S. Department of State’s human rights report for 2004 and similar sources, the Ethiopian government’s human rights record is poor. The Ethiopian government does not respect the basic human rights of many of its citizens. Police and security forces have harassed, arbitrarily and illegally detained, tortured, and in some cases, killed members of the political opposition, demonstrators, and suspected insurgents. Thousands of suspects remain in detention without charge, and lengthy pretrial detention continues to be a problem. Prison conditions are poor. The government often ignores citizens’ privacy rights and laws regarding search warrants. Although fewer journalists have been arrested, detained, or punished in 2004 than in past years, the government nevertheless continues to restrict freedom of the press. The government limits freedom of assembly, particularly for members of opposition groups, and security forces have used excessive force to break up demonstrations. Violence and discrimination against women continue to be problems. Female genital mutilation is widespread, although efforts to curb the practice have had some effect. The economic and sexual exploitation of children continues, as does trafficking in persons. Forced labor, particularly among children, is a persistent problem. Low-level government interference with labor unions continues. Although the government generally respects the free exercise of religion, local authorities at times interfere with religious practice.