Military of Eritrea

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Hanish Islands conflict
Eritrean–Ethiopian War
Djiboutian–Eritrean border conflict

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 history in Eritrea stretches back for thousands of years; during ancient times up until current, the society of Eritreans has dealt with war and peace.

In the 16th century the port of Massawa were used by the Ottomans to protect sea lanes from disruption while more recently it was used by the Italians during their colonial occupation. The Colony of Eritrea was founded by the Italians in 1890, shortly after the opening of the Suez Canal. The Italians then expanded their possessions into Ethiopia. Eritrean 'askaris' (native soldiers), along with Italian troops occupied Ethiopia in 1936, however, this was reversed by British troops in 1941. The Eritrean infantry battalions and cavalry squadrons of the "Reale Esercito Coloniale" (Royal Colonial Army) 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 one of the largest in Africa alongside of Ethiopia, Egypt and Morocco. The size of Eritrea's population is small, particularly when compared to these other neighbours. A military composed fully of career soldiers would not be adequate to meet the nation's defence needs. During peacetime the military of Eritrea numbers approximately 45,000[3] with a reserve force of approximately 250,000[4] strong and growing.

National service

Every able bodied man and woman is required to serve ostensibly for 1½ years. In this time they will receive six months of military training and the balance will be 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.[5] 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 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.[6]

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