Eritrean Defence Forces

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Military of Eritrea
Flag of Eritrea.svg
Founded 1991
Service branches Eritrean Army
Eritrean Air Force
Eritrean Navy
Commander-in-Chief President Isaias Afewerki
Minister of Defence General Sebhat Ephrem
Military age 18
Conscription 18
Available for
military service
1,985,023 males, age 18-40[3](2004 est.),
1,980,987 females, age 18-40[3](2004 est.)
Fit for
military service
1,599,979 males, age 18-40[3](2004 est.),
1,590,899 females, age 18-40[3](2004 est.)
Active personnel 320,000 [1]
Reserve personnel 250,000 [2]
Deployed personnel 0 (2014 est.)
Percent of GDP

20.9% (2009 est.)

US$ 220.1 million
Foreign suppliers  Russia
 United States
Related articles

Military history of Eritrea:

Eritrean War of Independence
Hanish Islands Crisis
Eritrean–Ethiopian War
Ras Doumeira 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 the current day, the society of Eritreans has dealt with war and peace. During the kingdom of Medri Bahri, the military fought numerous battles against the invading forces of the Abyssinians to the south and the Ottoman Turks at the Red Sea.[4]

In the 16th century the port of Massawa was used by the Ottomans to protect sea lanes from disruption, while more recently it was used by the Italians during their colonial occupation. The kingdom of Medri Bahri was dissolved and the Colony of Eritrea was founded by the Italians in 1890, shortly after the opening of the Suez Canal. Eritrean (native soldiers), along with Italian troops occupied Ethiopia in 1936, however, this was reversed by British and Ethiopian 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 among the largest in Africa alongside those of Egypt, Algeria, and Morocco. The size of Eritrea's population is small, particularly when compared to its neighbors. During peacetime the military of Eritrea numbers approximately 45,000[5] with a reserve force of approximately 250,000.[6]

National service[edit]

Every able bodied man and woman is required to serve ostensibly for 18 months. In this time they receive six months of military training and the balance is 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.[7] 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 allegedly 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.[8]

Military training is given at the Sawa Defence Training Centre and Kiloma Military Training Centre. Students, both male and female, are required to attend the Sawa Training Centre to complete the final year of their secondary education, which is integrated with their military service. If a student does not attend this period of training, he or she will not be allowed to attend university - many routes to employment also require proof of military training. However, they may be able to attend a vocational training centre, or to find work in the private sector. At the end of the 1½ year national service, a conscript can elect to stay on and become a career military officer. If the conscript elects otherwise, in theory, they may return to their civilian life but will continue to be a reservist. In practice, graduates of military service are often chosen for further national service according to their vocation - for example, teachers may be compulsorily seconded for several years to schools in an unfamiliar region of the country. According to the Government of Eritrea, "The sole objective of the National Service program is thus to cultivate capable, hardworking, and alert individuals."[1] A UN special rapporteur, denied entry to Eritrea on the pretext of her visit being "politically motivated",[9] stated that there is "a refugee exodus is fuelled by alleged abuses," including forced Eritrean military conscription that can last decades.[10]

Branches of the EDF[edit]

The Eritrean Defence Forces (EDF) are composed of three branches: Air Force, Army, and Navy. The Army is by far the largest, followed by the Air Force and Navy. The Commander-in-Chief of the EDF is the President of Eritrea.

The Minister of Defence oversees the EDF on a day-to-day basis.


  1. ^ a b "In Eritrea, youth frustrated by long service". Retrieved 2007-03-01. 
  2. ^ "Eritrea | War Resisters' International". Retrieved 2014-10-27. 
  3. ^ "CIA - World Factbook -- Eritrea". Central Intelligence Agency. 2009-10-28. Retrieved 2009-11-10. 
  4. ^ Yohannes, O. (1991). Eritrea: A Pawn in World Politics. University of Florida Press. p. 31. ISBN 9780813010441. Retrieved 2014-10-27. 
  5. ^ Killion, Tom (1998). Historical Dictionary of Eritrea. The Scarecrow Press. ISBN 0-8108-3437-5. 
  6. ^ "Asmara's Finest". Retrieved 2006-09-04. 
  7. ^ "Eritrea". Archived from the original on 2007-09-27. Retrieved 2006-10-13. 
  8. ^ Connell, Dan (September 1997). "Eritrea". Archived from the original on 2006-09-18. Retrieved 2006-09-19. 
  9. ^ "Statement by H.E. Mr. Girma Asmerom Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Eritrea to the United Nations". Retrieved 2016-02-04. 
  10. ^ "Eritrea - full profile - BBC News". BBC News. Retrieved 03/02/2016.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)

External links[edit]

Eritrea colonial history, Eritrean infantry and cavalry, ascari pictures/photos galleries and videos.