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US Contemplates Military Ties with Eritrea
middleeastwire.com ^ | 2002-05-17 | Alex Belida

Posted on 05/17/2002 2:33:26 PM PDT by Rebelbase

Pentagon - The Pentagon has confirmed 30 U.S. military personnel have been dispatched to Yemen to begin training forces there in counter- terrorism tactics.

But defense officials may be contemplating an even more extensive military relationship with another strategically-positioned Red Sea state, Eritrea.

Top Pentagon African affairs official Michael Westphal acknowledges closer military links between the United States and Eritrea would be beneficial.

Still, in a VOA interview, Mr. Westphal is careful to say no concrete decisions have been made about the direction of any future defense cooperation with the small Red Sea country, regarded by military officials as a front-line state in the war against terrorism. "I can see a lot of benefits from us having a more formalized relationship with Eritrea, military-to-military," he said. "But there isn't anything that is decided, or this is where we want to go. "

Mr. Westphal sidesteps the question of whether U.S. forces are specifically interested in gaining access to airstrips, ports or other facilities in Eritrea.

But the Voice of America has learned, basing issues have been among the topics discussed in recent visits to Eritrea by General Tommy Franks, the four-star commander of the U.S. military's Central Command.

General Franks has, in particular, voiced interest in the possible creation of a naval bombing and gunnery range in southern Eritrea. U.S. naval groups transiting the Red Sea en route to the Gulf region could use such a training facility.

Eritrean officials have reportedly said the United States is welcome to use military facilities in the country.

Following World War II, the United States maintained a naval repair base at the port of Masawa and an intelligence post at Asmara. However these have been closed for years.

Pentagon African Affairs official Westphal indicates human rights and other concerns have been a limiting factor in renewing closer defense links, as has the war between Eritrea and Ethiopia.

But he expresses hope a resolution of the border dispute between the two Horn of Africa neighbors will be the key to improved military ties. "My hope is that, now that we've had the border commission make their decision dealing with the border, this can be demarcated, and we can hopefully put this war behind us," he said. "We can look to Ethiopia, as well as Eritrea as future, potential partners."

At the moment, U.S. defense relations with both countries are limited to small exchange programs for what the Pentagon terms International Military Education and Training.

However, even these small programs have come under criticism from independent activists who note security forces in both Eritrea and Ethiopia have been accused of human rights abuses.


TOPICS: Extended News; Foreign Affairs
KEYWORDS: eritrea; redseaarea
Can anyone say Somolia is toast? Good move by the Bush Admin. in securing a Red Sea base of operations.

Yemen has to behave now or else get spanked by land based forces also.

1 posted on 05/17/2002 2:33:26 PM PDT by Rebelbase
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To: Rebelbase

Sudan is close by also.

2 posted on 05/17/2002 2:40:59 PM PDT by Rebelbase
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To: Rebelbase
Hmmm maybe he is going after Saudi Arabia after all.
3 posted on 05/17/2002 2:47:50 PM PDT by weikel
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To: weikel
Hmmmm...
4 posted on 05/17/2002 3:17:42 PM PDT by Shermy
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To: weikel
!
5 posted on 05/17/2002 3:21:25 PM PDT by Shermy
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To: weikel
A Red Sea base would provide for operations against Sudan, Yemen, and Somolia and would also provide for securing the Red Sea itself.

Remember, Eritrea just concluded a round of conflict with Ethiopia and is a dirt poor nation. There is no doubt that it will cost us a princely sum, but it is money well spent IMO.

This will be good news to the sailing community as Yemen and Ethiopia harbor pirates who prey on small boats/ships in the area:

"17 April 2002 at 1030 LT in position 14:08N - 049:39E, off Mukalla, Yemen. Pirates in 6 fast boats attempted to board bulk carrier underway. Alert crew mustered & activated fire hoses. After 30 minutes boats gave up chase & fled. (Fri. April 26 2002)"

"05 Feb. 2002 at 1412 LT in position:13:32N-044:00E, S. of Aden port, Yemen. Several speedboats with 8 -10 persons in each & armed with machine guns attempted to board tanker. Master altered course & crew used pressurised fire hoses. Speedboats followed for some time & finally moved away. Later pirates in same speedboats attacked another tanker. (Fri. Feb. 15 2002)"

"28 March 2002 at 2355 LT in position 15:15N - 051:40E, Gulf of Aden. While underway, speedboat with 4 pirates onboard approached bulk carrier within 8 meters on starboard quarter. Alarm raised & search light directed on boat. Boat moved away. (Fri. April 5 2002)"

6 posted on 05/17/2002 3:25:08 PM PDT by Rebelbase
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To: Rebelbase
One of the more interesting locations in Eritrea is the Dahlak Archipelago, otherwise known as the spider islands. At the end of the Eritean war of independence with ethiopia, I believe the Eritreans actually captured a russian made submarine out there. (how they did that, I have no idea). The Eritreans are about evenly split between mulsim and christian, and are united by their dislike for Sudan.

Yeah, they're dirt poor, but are tremendous fighters, and (imo) would make a superb ally in the war on terrorism.

7 posted on 05/17/2002 3:52:01 PM PDT by mac_truck
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To: mac_truck
Found this doing a search on the Dahlak Archipelago

from the website Home Planet

Marine base Nokra

Opposite to the Luul Hotel (Dahlak Kebir) lies the old marine base Nokra, setup by the former USSR and Ethiopia during the war of independence.

After the last days of the war the base was abandoned. One of the last actions before the retreat was the destruction of all military and non military hardware and to scuttle patrol boats, ships and the floating dock, that might be of any use to the Eritreans. This vindictive behavior has resulted in an interesting heritage for divers.

The two cranes of the former floating dock rise above sea level in the northern channel between Nokra and Dahlak Kebir, while the rest of the wreck is populated by riff fish, a variety of corals and blue and black speckled manta rays. The Russians even left a complete operational officers sauna for 20 persons, which is quite remarkable in one of the hottest regions on earth, which temperatures of over 50°C!

"During the war of independence a group of Eritrean freedom fighters - under the name Naval Force - carried out diving operations against the Ethiopian armed forces. These freedom fighters today make up the core of Eritrean diving tourism, organized by Eritrean Shipping Lines in Massawa."

Going back to the article title, Some of what I'm finding doing a search on Eritea has shown that this "alliance" was in the works pre-9/11.

8 posted on 05/17/2002 4:25:22 PM PDT by Rebelbase
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To: mac_truck
Eritrea's religious makeup, per the state department:

Section I. Religious Demography The country has a total area of 48,489 square miles, and its population is approximately 3.5 million. Although reliable statistics are not available, approximately 50 percent of the population are Sunni Muslim and approximately 40 percent are Orthodox Christian. The population also includes a small number of Eastern Rite and Roman Catholics (5 percent), Protestants (2 percent), smaller numbers of Seventh-Day Adventists, and less than 1,500 members of Jehovah's Witnesses. A small minority, perhaps 2 percent, practices traditional indigenous religions. Also present in very small numbers are practicing Buddhists, Hindus, and Baha'is. Generally the population in eastern and western lowlands predominantly is Muslim, and in the highlands the population predominantly is Christian. There are very few atheists. Religious participation is high among all groups.
http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2001/5641.htm
9 posted on 05/17/2002 4:35:06 PM PDT by Blackyce
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To: Rebelbase
Interesting link. The history of the Eritrean struggle for independence is quite facinating. The people are african, have their own language, and even their own alphabet. Yet after WWII, while other parts of north africa were being re-apportioned and given recognition as countries, Eritria was made part of Ethiopia. The US had a cold war presence there until the seventies when the commies took over Ethiopia and installed a despot named Mengastu.

Without help from the west, and with literally no money, the Eritreans fought for decades against russian backed Ethiopia. What they were able to accomplish, with the resources they had, is quite amazing. They do have contacts with KSA and Yemen (as well as Israel), and as far as I know their government is secular in nature, with their top general, Afwerki, serving the first term as president. (sounds a little bit like the start of the USA, doesn't it?)

10 posted on 05/18/2002 7:37:07 AM PDT by mac_truck
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To: Blackyce
approximately 50 percent of the population are Sunni Muslim...

Does that make them more or less likely to be friendly with the Saudis? I keep forgetting which muslim sects are more susceptable to Wahabbism.

11 posted on 05/18/2002 7:42:50 AM PDT by mac_truck
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To: Rebelbase
Well, I'm not happy about having our troops in 100+ other countries, but this choice does have many positive possibilities. Kudos to the ones who thought of and made this opportunity.
12 posted on 05/18/2002 7:53:43 AM PDT by Teacher317
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