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The War Nerd October 2, 2002
 
It's D-Day In Zalambessa
By Gary Brecher Browse author Email
 
 
Chick Soldier

Let's see how well you know your military history. Give the date and place of this comminique:

"Our Victorious Forces Liberate Zalambessa!!

Our victorious and heroic air and ground forces have liberated the town of Zalambessa after completely annihilating the enemy army which was on the verge of collapse yesterday. Our valiant forces raised the flag over Zalambessa town at midnight. Yesterday, the Irob and Egala areas were already liberated."

It sounds like something from the late 19th or early 20th century, from the age of the great wars between nation-states. But the comminique was actually issued by the Ethiopian Army on May 25, 2000. Two years ago. I guess nobody told the Ethiopians that the age of Nationalism was over. In some parts of the world, the great days of nation-building are right now, the great wars are right now, and the whole "age of heroes" thing is going strong.

When you live in what they call the developed world -- meaning Fresno, where only real-estate developers count -- you forget there's places where life is still going strong. Like the Horn of Africa. The countries around the Horn are like an honor roll for blood'n'guts: Somalia, Eritrea, Djibouti -- and right across the water, another crazyhouse I'll write up one of these days: Yemen.

The Horn gives you hope that the world isn't totally dulled-out yet. I may have to live like an ant in a suit, but in the Horn people still live wild. Remember Somalia?

In the Horn, war is normal and comes all sizes from family stabbings, to clan vs. clan war like Somalia, to total war between nation-states.

An Eritrean Boy Scout

An Eritrean Boy Scout

Which is what the Eritrea-Ethiopia war is. This is definitely not your typical African bush war -- the kind you see in Sierra Leone or Liberia, with gangs sneaking around attacking villages, avoiding combat, carrying nothing bigger than your basic irregular-warfare kit of AK's and RPG's, specializing in rape and mutilation.

The Ethiopian-Eritrean war is more like the Franco-Prussian War, or even the Western Front in 1914. These are two countries fully supplied with the best of mid-20th-c. Soviet weaponry, and smart enough to keep it running. And use it. And boy, have they used it! They've had Verduns, Stalingrads, Marnes down there -- and nobody even notices!

Eritrea is like Prussia: a tiny state of hard people who'll take on anybody. The Eritreans rebuilt an entire railroad with their bare hands. Imagine what that must've looked like: hundreds of thousands of ordinary people, whole families, digging rock and hammering track for no pay, out there in some of the hottest, driest, nastiest landscape in the world. And it wasn't because the authorities terrorized them into it: it was for the good of the nation. Think what kind of soldiers those people must be! If there were a few more Eritreans, they'd probably march across the whole continent: "Greater Eritrea (formerly known as 'Africa')."

But there are only 3.5 million Eritreans. Which means they can't afford to spend soldiers the way Ethiopia, with a population of 60 million, can. So the Eritreans specialize in defensive fighting, especially trench warfare. Ethiopia, with the big population, has a reputation for spending its soldiers' lives a little more recklessly. The Eritreans even accused Ethiopia of using "human-wave tactics" after the Ethiopians broke the supposedly impregnable Eritrean trenchlines a couple of years ago.

The Ethiopians deny the "human-wave" charge, and say they simply understand mobile warfare better than the Eritreans do. After their big breakthrough in 2000, one of the Ethiopian generals said, "The Eritreans only know how to fight in trenches!" The Ethiopians say they smashed the Eritrean trench network in classic manner: flanking the strongpoints on both sides, then attacking from front and rear at once.


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Gary Brecher
Browse author
Email Gary at war_nerd@exile.ru, but, more importantly, buy his book.
 
 
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