Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Wikileaks: Inside Eritrean Army Rumors continue

Eritreans look up to the Army to save them from President Isaias Afeworki’s tranny, as a Dec. 2008 Cable of US Embassy Asmara indicates. The Cable, which reports of ‘Asmara angst’,claims that:
Asmara is awash in speculation about domestic instability stemming from food shortages, economic decline, and stepped-up repression from the Isaias regime. In an isolated society with no media freedoms, Eritreans depend on "bado seleste," (akin to the grapevine or bush telegraph) for information deemed too sensitive or negative to appear in the regime-run media……The velocity of bado seleste news about splits within the regime and mounting public dissatisfaction is at its highest point in over a year. This buzz is a reflection of increased desperation among normal Eritreans hoping for signs of change.
Notably, some of the rumors hint Asmarans’ expectations. Among the rumors stated in the Cable:
  • Major General Tekle, yielding to public protests and mutinous troops, has ignored orders to ban the movement of foodstuffs and other goods in southwestern Eritrea.
  • Army majors entered Asmara with a column of troops and paid "night visits" on regime insiders, warning them to reverse course to save Eritrea.
  • A private militia called "Way of the Revolution," run by the chief of Isaias’ Praetorian Guard, Colonel Tesfaladet, has clashed with garrison troops deemed dangerously sympathetic to the local populace.
However, the leaders of the Army are trapped in personal strife and lucrative business to think of the public’s misery. As another Cable of Dec. 2008 indicates. The Cable claims, citing ‘a non-Eritrean contact with extensive knowledge and experience in Eritrea dating back to the struggle’, that:
the Eritrean Defense Force’s (EDF) five regional military commanders personally hate each other and are bitter rivals……they are collectively dissatisfied with the Isaias regime, but continue propping it up for two reasons. First, they are profiting handsomely from smuggling food, fuel, and other consumer goods into Eritrea, a practice Isaias allows to buy the generals’ loyalty. Second, these personal rivalries run so deep that any single general attempting to overthrow Isaias would be immediately contested by the other four, in an effort save their positions, fortunes, and possibly their lives. [Thus] any moves by the generals must, therefore, be coordinated among several of them to have any chance of success.
Moreover, the Cable indicates:
Isaias rotates a group of brigadier generals serving as deputies among each of the regional commanders. These deputies serve as Isaias’ spies, and are frequently rotated to prevent collusion with the regional commanders. In addition, EDF (Eritrea Defense Forces) divisions are frequently rotated among the regional commanders to combat the formation of loyalty between soldiers and commanders.
Yet, President Isaias Afeworki feels that he needs an elite force to ‘to protect himself and his regime from assassination, coup d’etat, army mutiny, or a foreign commando strike’, according to a Feb 2010 Cable. Thus, he ‘has created three separate Presidential Guard units of about 2,000 troops each’.
According to the Cable:
  • These elite solders get extra pay, have modern equipment, and receive specialized training. Most are currently stationed in or near Asmara, including a sizeable group lodged about 800 yards from the DCM’s residence.
  • The three units are nominally led by Major General Filipos, but in reality Isaias personally commands each one. In addition, Presidential Guardsmen also serve as jailors for the G-15 (senior Eritrean officials arrested in 2001).
Interestingly, the Cable claims, ‘the Presidential Guardsmen have recently been heard in bars grousing about President Isaias, that Isaias is "completely alone,".’
Isaias is surely lonelier now with the departure of his benefactor Muammer Quadafi. Yet, for change to come, Eritreans might need to heed the Libyan example.
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Reference ID – 08ASMARA586
Created – 2008-12-11 04:57
Released – 2011-08-30 01:44
Classification – CONFIDENTIAL
Origin – Embassy Asmara
P 110457Z DEC 08
FM AMEMBASSY ASMARA
TO SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 0056
INFO IGAD COLLECTIVE
DIA WASHDC
CIA WASHDC
NSC WASHDC
SECDEF WASHDC
CDR USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL
JICCENT MACDILL AFB FL
CJTF-HOA J2X CAMP LEMONIER DJ
HQ USAFRICOM STUTTGART GE
COMUSNAVCENT
C O N F I D E N T I A L ASMARA 000586
DEPTMARTMENT FOR AF/EX AND AF/E
E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/01/2018
TAGS: MOPS PGOV SOCI ASEC ER
SUBJECT: ASMARA ANGST
Classified By: Ambassador Ronald K. McMullen for reason 1.4 (d)
¶1. (C) Asmara is awash in speculation about domestic instability stemming from food shortages, economic decline, and stepped-up repression from the Isaias regime. In an isolated society with no media freedoms, Eritreans depend on "bado seleste," (akin to the grapevine or bush telegraph) for information deemed too sensitive or negative to appear in the regime-run media. The velocity of bado seleste news about splits within the regime and mounting public dissatisfaction is at its highest point in over a year. This buzz is a reflection of increased desperation among normal Eritreans hoping for signs of change. It also causes increased skittishness among regime insiders as they become increasingly concerned about their physical and job security.
¶2. (SBU) Given Post’s limited ability to track down the origins of widely circulating "reports," Emboffs take a cautious approach to single-source unverified information. Much of the content of bado seleste news, including material appearing in exile websites, is conjecture, anti-regime propaganda, or exaggeration, although some of these stories may be based on at least a kernel of truth. Recent examples include:
– Major General Filipos was the target of an unsuccessful assassination attempt near the village of Nefasit.
– Major General Tekle, yielding to public protests and mutinous troops, has ignored orders to ban the movement of foodstuffs and other goods in southwestern Eritrea.
– 25 members of the Eritrean Navy, including 3 captains, deserted to Yemen in speedboats.
– Iran will take over facilities in the southeastern port city of Assab, including the defunct oil refinery. An Iranian or "Arab" submarine recently visited Assab.
– 58 members of the Air Force, including 11 officers, deserted en masse in October.
– Other members of the Air Force mutinied after defying orders to relocate from Asmara to Massawa.
– Troops publicly executed by firing squad a number of elders in the south-central town of Segenetti following public protests.
– Information Minister Ali Abdu has suffered a nervous breakdown; Finance Minister Berhane is abroad for a liver transplant.
– Army majors entered Asmara with a column of troops and paid "night visits" on regime insiders, warning them to reverse course to save Eritrea.
– The governor of Debub province (south of Asmara) had to call in troops to quell protesting farmers who had overcome local police after being told they must sell their crops to the government at far below market prices. 300 farmers were arrested.
– A private militia called "Way of the Revolution," run by the chief of Isaias’ Praetorian Guard, Colonel Tesfaladet, has clashed with garrison troops deemed dangerously sympathetic to the local populace.
Again, these incidents have not been corroborated by Post, but are provided as illustrative examples of bado seleste news reflecting the current zeitgeist in Asmara.
¶3. (C) COMMENT: Isaias’ political stock may be near an all-time low. His strongest appeal remains his adroit manipulation of Eritrean nationalism. Most Eritreans are passionate patriots and are fiercely (and sometimes mystifyingly) proud of their country. When previously cornered, Isaias has wrapped the Eritrean flag tightly around his shoulders and called Eritreans to rally to the flag. In this system of one-man rule, the challenge for regime opponents is to somehow separate Isaias as a person from the cause of Eritrean nationalism. END COMMENT.
MCMULLEN
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Reference ID – 08ASMARA597
Created – 2008-12-17 08:09
Released – 2011-08-30 01:44
Classification – SECRET
Origin – Embassy Asmara
VZCZCXRO8157
RR RUEHROV
DE RUEHAE #0597 3520809
ZNY SSSSS ZZH
R 170809Z DEC 08
FM AMEMBASSY ASMARA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0068
INFO RUCNIAD/IGAD COLLECTIVE
RHMFISS/CDR USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RUEPADJ/CJTF-HOA J2X CAMP LEMONIER DJ
RHRMDAB/COMUSNAVCENT
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RUMICEA/JICCENT MACDILL AFB FL
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S E C R E T ASMARA 000597
SIPDIS
DEPARTMENT FOR AF/E,
LONDON AND PARIS FOR AFRICA WATCHERS
E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/16/2018
TAGS: MOPS PGOV MCAP ASEC ER
SUBJECT: ERITREA’S CORRUPT AND DIVIDED MILITARY
Classified By: Ambassador Ronald K. McMullen for Reason 1.4 (d)
¶1. (S) SUMMARY: The Eritrean military’s five regional commanders are bitter rivals and would actively contest a coup attempt by any of the others, according to a knowledgeable contact. Isaias personally selects the regional commanders’ deputies to act as spies, and rotates them frequently. Lower and middle ranked officers are frustrated by lack of promotions. Eritrea’s officer corps, dating from Eritrea’s war of independence, will soon be replaced by conscripts with less loyalty to the Isaias regime. END SUMMARY.
PERSONAL RIVALRIES AMONG TOP MILITARY COMMANDERS
——————————————— —
¶2. (S) A non-Eritrean contact with extensive knowledge and experience in Eritrea dating back to the struggle told Emboff that the Eritrean Defense Force’s (EDF) five regional military commanders personally hate each other and are bitter rivals. He added, however, that they are collectively dissatisfied with the Isaias regime, but continue propping it up for two reasons. First, they are profiting handsomely from smuggling food, fuel, and other consumer goods into Eritrea, a practice Isaias allows to buy the generals’ loyalty. Second, these personal rivalries run so deep that any single general attempting to overthrow Isaias would be immediately contested by the other four, in an effort save their positions, fortunes, and possibly their lives. The contact believes any moves by the generals must, therefore, be coordinated among several of them to have any chance of success.
DEPUTIES/SPIES
————–
¶3. (C) The contact also said that Isaias rotates a group of brigadier generals serving as deputies among each of the regional commanders. These deputies serve as Isaias’ spies, and are frequently rotated to prevent collusion with the regional commanders. In addition, EDF divisions are frequently rotated among the regional commanders to combat the formation of loyalty between soldiers and commanders.
NON-EXISTENT PROMOTION OPPORTUNITIES AND ITS CONSEQUENCES
——————————————— ————
¶4. (C) There is reportedly growing dissatisfaction among the EDF’s officer corps due to lack of promotion opportunities. The contact said that the GSE’s force retention policies have clogged the higher ranks of the Eritrean military, leaving many resentful officers in their forties and fifties as captains and majors for ten or more years.
¶5. (C) In addition, the EDF’s drafting of an officer corps (a practice started in 2001) could, according to the contact, spark a lower-level military rebellion in coming years if Eritrea continues fielding a large conscript army. Many of the current battalion (major/colonel) and brigade commanders (colonel/brigadier general) are hold-overs from "the struggle," and are nearing retirement age. The EDF will soon be forced to replace these former fighters with drafted officers who have no direct connection to the liberation war. The contact added that these officers will not be of high enough rank to enjoy the financial benefits of smuggling, making them potentially even more inclined to foment a coup than their predecessors.
¶6. (S) COMMENT: Post contacts have speculated that the regional commanders growing dissatisfaction with the Isaias regime could lead one of them to orchestrate a coup. The contact’s assessment of the need for coordination of a plot among the commanders, if true, reduces this likelihood. For this coordination among rivals to take place, the generals would likely need a common complaint, such as Isaias interfering with their smuggling operations. END COMMENT.
MCMULLEN
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Reference ID – 10ASMARA39
Created – 2010-02-18 11:17
Released – 2011-08-30 01:44
Classification – CONFIDENTIAL
Origin – Embassy Asmara
INFO LOG-00 MFA-00 EEB-00 AID-00 AMAD-00 ACQ-00 INL-00
DOTE-00 DS-00 DHSE-00 OIGO-00 FAAE-00 VCI-00 H-00
TEDE-00 INR-00 LAB-01 MOFM-00 MOF-00 VCIE-00 DCP-00
NSAE-00 ISN-00 OIG-00 NIMA-00 PM-00 GIWI-00 ISNE-00
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R 181117Z FEB 10
FM AMEMBASSY ASMARA
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INFO IGAD COLLECTIVE
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C O N F I D E N T I A L ASMARA 000039
E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/17/2025
TAGS: PGOV MOPS ER
SUBJECT: THE ISAIAS REGIME’S SECURITY POSTURE
Classified By: Amb. Ronald K. McMullen for reason 1.4(d)
¶1. (C) 7,000 PRESIDENTIAL GUARDS
——————————–
Eritrea boasts one of the largest standing armies in Africa and is among the most militarized societies in the world. To protect himself and his regime from assassination, coup d’etat, army mutiny, or a foreign commando strike, Isaias has created three separate Presidential Guard units of about 2,000 troops each, according to a well-connected Eritrean businessman.
– These elite solders get extra pay, have modern equipment, and receive specialized training. Most are currently stationed in or near Asmara, including a sizeable group lodged about 800 yards from the DCM’s residence.
– The three units are nominally led by Major General Filipos, but in reality Isaias personally commands each one. In addition, Presidential Guardsmen also serve as jailors for the G-15 (senior Eritrean officials arrested in 2001).
– Isaias’ right-hand man is Colonel Tesfaldat Habteselassie, who commands the 70-man presidential bodyguard detachment.
– The source also reported that the head of Eritrea’s Office of National Security, General Abraha Kassa, suffers from a bad heart and comes to his office irregularly.
¶2. (C) 11,000 TROOPS SENT TO ASSAB
———————————-
In early February the Eritrean military sent 11,000 troops from the Asmara area to Assab, according to a reliable Arab contact, supposedly to deter any Ethiopian thrust to seize the port of Assab "now that Eritrea is weakened by UN sanctions." Other observers speculate the troop movement may be related to the reported February 15 Afar rebel attack in southeastern Eritrea in which fighters of the Red Sea Afar Democratic Organization (RSADO) allegedly killed or wounded 37 Eritrean troops. (RSADO, thought to be supported by the Ethiopian government, has previously issued seemingly exaggerated claims of victories against Eritrean forces.)
The businessman cited above says even Presidential Guardsmen have recently been heard in bars grousing about President Isaias, that Isaias is "completely alone," and that ordinary soldiers from the Red Sea littoral are restive due to reports of starvation in their home areas.
MCMULLEN
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