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From the Experiences of the ELA

(Part II)



In part one of this article, Nharnet.com briefly reviewed the birth of the ELF and listed names of the pioneers of the armed struggle who joined Hamid Idris Awate’s liberation army in 1961 and 1962. In today’s part II, we briefly narrate  the important military operations that took place between 1 September 1961 to the end of 1964, a year during which the ELA took up engaging the enemy in highland Eritrea starting with Martyr Ghebrehiwet Himbirti’s unit in River Mereb in mid-March of that year. Not included in military activities  recounted here are many of the fedayeen operations in the villages, the highways and urban centres. (Corrections on Part I: Mohammed Fayd was martyred not at Adal but at the battle of Omal, as told below. Likewise, the Abu Sheneb was one of the participants in the Battle of Togoruba but not as the leader of unit.  Regrets for the errors.)


1.  The Battle of Adal

As we have briefly recounted in Part I, the Battle of Adal took place on 1 September 1961 in the district of that name located west of Agordat and north-west of Barentu. The fighters, including the leader Hamid Idris Awate, were 14 in number (see Part I below).


2.  The Battle of Omal

The second recorded battle of the first armed unit of the ELA took place by end of the same September of 1961 at Omal in the Sawa district. The battle was not an ELA plan but it came as an attack by police units of the Ethiopian authorities who were embarrassed by what had happened at Adal on 1st September. But the enemy could not kill the ELA in the bud. In fact, the armed unit did all what it could and retreated. The first martyr of the ELA, Mohammed Fayd, fell at the Battle of Omal. 


3.    The Agordat Operation 

The Agordat Operation of 12 July 1962 intended to kill Ethiopian Emperor’s Representative in Eritrea, General Abi  Abebe, and other dignitaries who included Asfaha Woldemichael, the head of the Eritrean government and Hamid Ferej, president of the Assembly, who travelled to Agordat that day to address the soldiers and police and to intimidate the residents of Agordat who by that time were receiving news of the movements of the ELA on a daily basis. The operation killed 8 Ethiopian dignitaries and wounded several others. The Agordat Operation was planned by Mohamoud Mohamed Salih (Hanjemenjee) and its execution was led by Adem Mohammed Hamid (Ghidifil).


Among many smaller military operations of 1962 included:  overrunning and controlling for a full day the Halhal police post on 18 July 1962; the setting on fire of Gogne police post on 10 October 1962: overnight simultaneous attacks on police posts of Garsat, Galuj and Barentu on 15 November 1962. The attack at the Sala enemy camp left 6 soldiers killed. 


4.   Battle of Telay

The Battle of Telay started as a well planned ambush of the ELA against enemy vehicles traveling from Gherger in the Sawa district to Agordat. It was a successful battle in which many policemen were killed and taken prisoner. Those members of the Eritrean police who were captured at Telay were later released after briefing them on the objectives of the liberation struggle. The ELA unit captured 17 guns that battle led by Omar Izaz. It took place in mid-1963.


5.   Battle of Ansaba

The Battle of Ansaba, fought in Jengeren north of Keren in the fall of 1963, was another successful battle started as an ambush by an ELA unit on an enemy convoy traveling from Keren to Halhal. The ELA unit captured 23 guns, including a machinegun known as Bren-gun, and ammunitions. The battle was led by Mohammed Idris Haj, who was martyred from a wound he received in that confrontation.


6.  The Haicota Operation

The brilliant Haicota Bus Operation was another highly successful military action that took place by the end of 1963. The operation, led by Adem Mohammed Hamid Qindifil, took full control of the police and security headquarters from where 32 guns and 12 grenades were captured. It operation was arranged after an ELA unit entered the town in a hijacked bus. The ELA lost one martyr, Mohammed Karrar.


Other military activities of 1963 included: attack on 24 March 1963 at Shalab that left 8 policemen killed, and another near Haicota on 30 March. On 29 July at Arota five guns and a machinegun captured from police; Adebera police post overrun on 15 September, five policemen taken prisoner. Two Ethiopian agents executed at Dabak and one in Agordat.


By the end of 1963, the ELA had 250 men in arms.


7.  Battle of Togoruba

As many of our readers would recall, the Battle of Togoruba was the most significant confrontation between the ELA and the Ethiopians in those early days. In that battle, the Ethiopians sent not the so-called Field Force and the Eritrean police but a large regular Ethiopian army whose aim was to put an end to the ELA. In that Battle of Togoruba, located north west of Barentu,  the Ethiopians lost 84 dead and many wounded. The ELA lost 19 martyrs. Fought on 15 March 1964, the Battle of Togoruba was led by Mohamed Ali Idris (Abu Rijeila) led the battle.


8.  Battle of She’eb

The Battle of She’eb was started as a planned attack by an ELA unit at the police headquarters that fell after the death and the surrender of the rest of the policemen. Mohammed Saeed Shemsi, leader of the ELA unit was martyred.


Other major operations of 1964, a year that witnessed intensification of confrontations and the ascent of the ELA to highland Eritrea: at Sawwa in Bab-Jengeren on 22 January, 20 field-force and policemen were killed in an ambush; a few days before the Battle of Togoruba in March 1964, Martyr Ghebrehiwet Himbirti  confronted enemy units at River Mereb killing two policemen and a collaborator. On 12 April at Dambals, ELA engaged and killed 9 enemy soldiers, and on 20 April at Bushukua Ethiopia suffered 13 dead while ELA lost 5 heroes whose bodies were exposed in Agordat the next day to intimidate the public.   During the night of 13 July, simultaneous attacks were launched against police and army posts in Barentu, Haocota, Galluj and Tamarat inflicting many casualties to the enemy. During the rest of the year, battles were fought at Humbol, Ad Kukui, Dambalas and Haboro-Tsada.





From the Experiences of the ELA

(Part I)


1st September 2004, is the 43rd anniversary of the Battle of Adal, which  is annually marked as Revolution Day, the day our armed national liberatgion struggle started. In particular, to members of all ELF factions, Bahti Meskerem/Al-Fatih min Sebtember is also yearly commemorated ad ELA Day, i.e. Eritrean Liberation Army Day.


Starting today, Nharnet Team is pleased to present to its readers short historical notes on the experiences of the ELA. The notes are based on a number of sources, including the Arabic-language booklet entitled “Experiences of the ELA: 1961-1982” authored by Abdalla Idris and Martyr Mahmoud Haseb, who were among the key ELA leaders in the 1970s and 1980s.


The Birth of the ELF

The Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF) was established, mainly by students, in Cairo in July 1960. During the early phase of the armed struggle, its Cairo-based political leadership (the Supreme Council) consisted of  seven: Idris Mohammed Adem, former Speaker of the Eritrean Assembly as president; Idris Osman Gelaidos, secretary for political affairs; Osman Saleh Sabbe, secretary for foreign affairs; Mohammed Saleh Humed; Taha Mohammed Nur; Osman Khiyar, and Sidd Ahmed Mohammed Hashem. The organization believed in armed struggle and called on Hamid Idris Awate, then in Agordat, to start the struggle in field. Hamid Awate, already a consistent resistance fighter against colonialists, was well trained in use of arms in Rome, and spoke the Eritrean languages of Baria, Kunama, Tigre, Tigrinia and Arabic in addition to fluency in Italian, written and spoken.


ELA at the Battle of Adal

The Battle of Adal that took place on 1 September 1961 was the first organized armed confrontation in Eritrea against the Ethiopian virtual annexation of the territory.  The Adal district is located west of Agordat and north-west of Barentu. The only arms in possession of the ELA unit were: 1 Abu-Ashera gun of British make that was held by the leader and 3 old guns of Italian origin. Awate’s first ELA unit consisted of the following 13 fighters, most of them without rifles:

1.      Abdu M. Fayd

2.       Ibrahim  M. Ali

3.       Humed Qadif

4.        Awate M. Fayd

5.         Mohammed Bayraq (taken prisoner)

6.         Mohammed Adem Hisan

7.          Saleh Qaruj

8.         Ahmed Fikak

9.          Mohammed Hassen Duhe

10.       Adem Faqurai

11.       Ali Bakhit

12.       Idris Mohamoud

13.       Omar Karay.


Till end of 1961, only two fighters joined the ELA; they were Mohammed Adem Qassir and Kibub Hajaj.


During 1962, the ELA was joined by important groups of fighters who were abandoning their army ranks and posts  in the Sudanese Army. (It is to be recalled that many  Eritrean nationals were recruited by the British to serve in the Sudanese army.) The most important date was 17 February 1962 when 9 former officers and soldiers from the Sudanese Army met and joined Hamid Idris Awate and his ELA unit at the village of Ab-Hashila Shekur south of Tessenei. The new ELA members from the Sudanese army were:


1.       Mohammed Idris Haj, who became Awate’s successor

2.       Omar Hamid Izaz (2nd division commander martyred in Halhal)

3.      Tahir Salim (known for his most effective agitation in Haraka and later in ELF cells among Eritreans in the Sudanese army)

4.       Osman Mohammed Idris (Abu Sheneb)

5.       Mohammed Omar Abdalla (Abu Tiyara) who led the ELA for a short period

6.       Adem Mohammed Hamid (Gindfel), who led the successful Haicota  operation in 1963

7.      Mohammed Ali Idris (Abu Rijeila)

8.      Mohammed Ibrahim Bahdurai

9.      Omar Mohammed Ali (Damer)


Awate was martyred on 16 June 1962 but his death was kept secret for over three years. Soon after his martyrdom, groups of fighters joined the ELA, most of them abandoning their important ranks in the Sudanese army or police and other civilian positions. Among the 24 important names that joined the ELA that year were the following: Mahmoud Dinai, Hishal Osman, Saleh Mohammed, Saleh Mohammed Idris (Abu Ajaj), Dingus Aray, Mahmoud Maybetot, Abdalla Idris (De Gaule), Al Haj Mussa Ali, Mohammed Idris Kelbai, Saeed Hussein, Ahmed Ibrahim Nefa’e (Halib-Sette) and others. In those early days, up to 80 former soldiers from the Sudan joined the ELA.


Then came the turn of Eritrean police officers to join the ELA in 1962-63, among the most known names being those of Mohammed Saeed Shemsi, Mohammed Yassin Al Haj, Ali Ahmed, Ismail Abubaker (Mazlum) and others.


 Eritrean students from Cairo and other places went to Syria for military training

before joining the ELA; among them were Abdelkerim Ahmed, later 3rd division leader, Mohammed Ali Omaro, Ramadan Mohammed Nur and others.


By end of 1964, the ELA consisted of six platoons with a total of about 800 fighters. (In part II, Nharnet.com will briefly narrate the major military operations of the ELA between 1962 and 1965.)


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