The War between Eritrea and Ethiopia: Badme, 1999

Breathrough at Gemehalo

Breakthrough at Gemehalo was the key critical battle between Eritrean and Ethiopian forces on February 23, 1999. The overall offensive, Operation Sunset, as named by Ethiopian forces, covered a front some 100 km. It occurred on the Badme Plains in the disputed triangle of Ethiopia. It was in this area that Eritrea had invaded and taken over earlier, claiming that this portion was actually part of Eritrea. The infamous and elusive town of Badme took on an importance that to an outsider seems incredible: a town of a few thousand farmers and a few buildings. This border dispute was equally incredible and to an outsider, humorous. Humorous because the border was based on old 1901 and 1930’s descriptions that are vague and open to interpretation, just as Eritrea and Ethiopia still do. Adding to the confusion is Badme.

To the outside world, there are the Badme Plains (a region), the actual town of Badme, near the border, and Yirga, which is known locally as Badme and is further from the border! Adding additional confusion, the spellings of this town vary greatly, many maps do not include them. When the UN entered to resolve the dispute, their mammoth 1000 page report only mentioned the town twice and none of the maps included in the report show Badme!

With Badme as the symbol, Ethiopian forces faced off with Eritreans. Both spent millions in purchasing ex-Soviet era equipment including modern aircraft like Su-27s and Mig 29s (nearly all piloted by Russians).

While Badme was a key objective, the Eritrean fortress of Gemehalo (aka Gomohalo, Gemhalo, Gehalo) south of the town, proved to be the real thrust of the attack. While the battle near Badme took the headlines, the breakthrough and destruction of the Eritrean defenses began at Gemehalo.

Gemehalo is 1306 ft, Gual Gemehalo is much smaller. Located near the border close to Gomohalo, they protrude from the flat terrain like huge pimples. The Eritrean defenses were incredible: thousands of mines, trenches, pillboxes, wire, dug in tanks, all made this seem impregnable. Why here? One of the few dirt roads moves through nearby toward Barentu and the hills allowed the Eritreans a great artillery platfrom to which to barrage towns 20 km away.

The Eritreans held the Gemehalo area with some of the 161st Corps, 1st division, 1st Brigade. Everyone, including women, were in the trenches. Many of the Eritreans were teenagers and had never even heard of the area or of Badme. A division had 6000 soldiers. All armed with AK-47s, grenades, some RPGs. The soldiers in the front lines had not been told that there was also a minefield behind them to prevent desertions. Thus, they were trapped. Perched on the hills were artillery and rocket batteries (all Russian) and 20 or so T-55 tanks dug in.

Some 700 yards away were the Ethiopians in their trenches. Their first wave would consist of cannon fodder, recruits with little training and armed with a rifle. They were not expected to reach the Eritrean side but used to clear a path across the minefield, sacrificing themselves to do so. Once avenues were cleared, the real troops would be sent across. However, before this occurred, a massive artillery and air barrage would befall the Eritreans, similar to WW1 in scale. It was WW1 all over again in 1999.

The battle itself was bloody and horrific, even by Western standards, yet few countries outside of Africa even noticed it. Waves of Ethiopians walked into
relentless Eritrean machine-gun, mortar and tank fire. An estimated 10,000 Ethiopians were killed,57 of their tanks destroyed and another 20 captured. Dozens of Ethiopian tanks and tens of thousands of men advanced crossed towards the Eritrean trenches, where they met a barrage of artillery, mortar and machinegun fire. The Eritreans left their trenches to try to surround the attackers in a pincer movement but were themselves caught in the open by a second Ethiopian wave. After their initial attacks were repulsed, the Ethiopians launched a barrage of air strikes from bombers, fighters and helicopter gunships, a result of spending $300 million on Russian weapons (Russia
supplied Ethiopia with eight Sukhoi Su-27 fighter-bombers, and supplied Eritrea with ten MiG-29s, 20 Russian flight instructors to Eritrea and 100 foreign instructors to Ethiopia, 100 to 210 T-55 tanks, and armed the 320,000 man Ethiopian army).

They then threw division after division at the Eritrean frontline. Eventually, the line buckled and the Eritreans were driven out of the Badme area. Ethiopia then claimed victory. The Eritreans were forced back 12 miles. By now, the war may have claimed as many as 50,000 dead.

The Eritrean Army consisted of 200,000 of which 30,000 women and most were manning the front line trenches. The battle lasted eight hours and the Ethiopians had crushed the vaunted Eritrean defenses and continued to move northwards causing Eritrea's capitol, Asama, into a wild panic.

As of 2009, there remains an uneasy peace between both countries. The UN troops were withdrawn but skirmishs continue to flare.

Comments 28 comments

LondonGirl profile image

LondonGirl 7 years ago from London

great hub - uneasy is right, and there are an awful lot of people stuck in a horrible middle, with husband / wife from the two countries, and children with parents from the two.


perrya profile image

perrya 7 years ago Author

Sadly, and most Americans do not know this, the US government silently supported Ethiopia and considered Eritrea a sort of "break away republic", which is fairly true if you read about Eritrea's formation. The US also could've stopped them but basically, "looked the other way" to stay uninvolved.


LondonGirl profile image

LondonGirl 7 years ago from London

Yes, and the fall-out continues a decade on. Another great hub from you!


Deep Ethiopian profile image

Deep Ethiopian 6 years ago

You guys are forgetting something. That to an Ethiopian the motherland is sacred. And it might take hundreds of thousands of lives, but it is one we have always been paying. And it has paid off. It is one of only two countries that have never been invaded, the other one is Russia.

So, although the town, its surroundings and what not may appear humorous and the war pointless, all I can say is... only an Ethiopian can understand it.


perrya profile image

perrya 6 years ago Author

probably so. we are outsiders.


Observer 5 years ago

The only way nature can fight the untenable population growth is through such waste of life.


just 5 years ago

it is so sad to see poor african countries wasting their precious resources for nothing. neither the ethiopians nor eritreans benefited from this war. the western and east european countries were the biggest winner. what a shame!

may god bless the people of eritrea and ethiopia.

peace


Ethiowarrior 5 years ago

We taught eritreans that messing with Ethiopia equals death. We killed around 100,000 eritreans and imprisoned about 5000. We occupied their country. Now they are a sanctioned dead wasteland. While Ethiopia is poor yet prospering to become a nation of envy.

RIP eritrea.

Buried in bademe, which is now as it has always been, Ethiopian land.


Observer 5 years ago

Just: You accuse the Europeans of benefiting from the war, when are you Africans going to stop blaming Europeans and take responsibility for you own blunders.


perrya profile image

perrya 5 years ago Author

The Badme war just shows what happens when modern weapons are in the hands of simple minded people. A total waste of everything about pride, ego and hatred.


Observer 5 years ago

The nerve they have, to use so much foreign aid money to buy armaments they can't afford, and then to boast about slaughtering 100,000 illiterate peasants. There is something wrong with peoples of the Horn of Africa, from Somalia, to Sudan, Ethiopia-Eritrea, they are all mentally unstable.


perrya profile image

perrya 5 years ago Author

LOL, OMG. Maybe.


Luke Zelleke profile image

Luke Zelleke 5 years ago

As opposed to starting a war with no evidence of WMD, having a hidden agenda and against the wrong foe??? And you call US simple minded??? You're the ones being taken for a long ride! Who'd be crazy enough to pay tax to fuel a petro-war???


Observer 5 years ago

America can afford to fight any war, but you Africans are fighting wars on aid money. You can't feed your people, you drive them out to invade the west where they come to subsist on welfare. Don't compare America with Africa, America pays its own way, Africa begs endlessly.


Luke Zelleke profile image

Luke Zelleke 5 years ago

"America pays it's own way..." Really? I wonder why the Chinese bailed you out...


perrya profile image

perrya 5 years ago Author

If it were up to the Chinese to bail the US or Africa out, the US would easily be selected. Africa's value are its resources that only a few countries there have or its geographic location. Other than that, Observer is correct.


Luke Zelleke profile image

Luke Zelleke 5 years ago

Perry A – I meant that the Chinese bailed the US out in the economic crisis. After all, China is the major debtor of the country. Don’t ever assume that when it comes to economics anything is certain. The west had been taking and taking from Africa without thinking of giving back. At first they started taking by force (slavery and colonization). When the Africans started to ‘see the light’ and fight the neo-colonization that came after ‘independence’ they were assassinated (Patrice Lumumba, Cpt. Thomas Sankara). That is why we say that although the natural resources of Africa are her way out of poverty, it is also the source of her woes. When the, west wanted to make sure that the resource were steadily handed over to them they put up governments that nobody wanted (Mobutu Sesseko, and to some extent Hosni Mubarak) despite what they did to their own people.

And that was the story until the Indians and especially the Chinese started to venture into Africa. They started offering deals for resources. They gave infrastructure improvements (roads, dams, communications etc.) in exchange for those same resources that used to be robbed. If there wasn’t any know-how they brought in their own people to work alongside the Africans until they could do it own their own. Now compare this to the western policies of donating money, then sending in advisors or managers who would plan the projects in what way they saw fit. They took up a substantial amount of the aid by means of salaries, houses, four-wheel drives and a party lifestyle. They just assumed that there were no Africans capable of doing the job and that they knew what was better for Africa better than the African himself.

But when the Chinese came in with these deals the west went crazy proclaiming a new round of ‘neocolonialism’ was happening in Africa. That when the whole world knows that the west only thinks about the African people, and send in ‘missions to save the people’, when there is natural resources involved (Libya) and unanimously turned their heads, eyes and ears when 100,000 people were butchered right in front of their eyes in a country that didn’t have resources, like petroleum, under its soil (Rwanda). So please, don’t be sure on who will choose what or which country you might think is better for Africa. All nations have their agendas; it’s just a matter of how far they are willing to go to fulfill them.

Moving on to the Ethio-Eritrean wars, this too can be seen as another part of what has just been said. Don’t ever take news at face value. If you really want to see the puppets for what they are and find out who are pulling the strings, try to research on the geopolitics of the Red Sea, East Africa and the countries bordering it. You will be surprised who the fingers point to.

Observer – Those same people that you say just go to America and just twiddle their thumbs are a myth. Most of the people that migrate from here start working hard and work their way up the economic ladders. They start with jobs you don’t want to do and work their way up. Now just imagine if these people had the opportunities here that they are grateful to have over there. One thing that makes the US a great nation is the fact that it allows immigrants to grow. I say ‘one of the greatest’ because I believe your neighbors to the north (Canada, in case there are geographically challenged people reading this because some reports say so) are better at it. I’m not going to argue on this point because it is out of the topic.

Now, these immigrants only become a problem when they have been there for a couple of generations, forget what and where they escaped from, become lazy slobs and start to think the world owes them everything (remind you of someone?).

In conclusion I just want to say that not everything is as simple as it seems, and not everything can be blamed on the west, but please don’t try to portray us savages that just sit on our butts and love to kill each other. And please, save the ‘holier than thou’ attitude.

Perry A. I’ll bet the traffic stats on this page are bouncing right off the chart. :O)

One Love!!!

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Observer 5 years ago

Reply to Luke Zellke:

If China bailed out America, it is only because China depends on its massive export market in America. But there is no similarity between China buying American bonds and Ethiopia receiving billions of dollars in aid to redirect it to war. What China is lending to America must be paid back, what Ethiopia gets from America and Europe is gone for good.

You mentioned slavery and colonialism, well why should Sweden feel guilty for it, there were no black slaves in Sweden, there was no Swedish colony anywhere. Why should Norway, Germany, Canada feel guilty when they never had colonies and slaves?

Do you expect whitey to forever feel guilty for something that happened in the 19th century? Besides why are you Africans not calling the Arabs to task after the millions of Black Africans who were sold to slavery there? Or are you selectively using slavery and colonialism as weapons of psychological warfare against impressionable white youngsters?

President Afeworki of Eritrea has converted all Eritrean youth to his personal slaves, today as I speak, but you talk about old history while black men are practicing slavery today. How about the millions of black Africans who are flooding Europe today and colonizing it, yet you talk about white colonialism that ended 60 years ago.

You mentioned Lumuba, yes the Belgians were involved in his killing, but why do you expect the entire white race to feel guilty for the crimes of a few Belgians? Idi Amin murdered hundereds of thousands of black Africans, do you expect the entire black race to feel guilty for it? The Sudanese Arabs exterminated two million black Africans there. So why are the white man's mistakes magnified way out of proportion?

Do you think the Chinese are in Africa for the love of Africans? They are there for the same reason the white man has always been there, minerals. The Chinese are not in love with you, they are only in love with your minerals.

You talk about Indians and Chinese building infrastructure deals to Africa. Who built all the great dams, bridges and schools of Africa in the past? Do you think the white man has done nothing in Africa other than steal? I wonder where you got this notion that white people are a race of thieves? Why do you ignore all the good works of white people in Africa in the past?

You even try to blame whitey for the Eritrea-Ethiopia war, but it is well known there is extreme ethnic hatred between Ethiopians and Eritreans, so I don't know how you can try to blame that one on us. Eritreans and Ethiopians killed each other only because they hated each other, not because the white man told them to kill each other.

You say black African immigrants in the west are hard workers, if so why do they need affirmative action? And why do they not work hard in the vastness of Africa instead of the badly overcrowded spaces of Europe?

Lastly, if the white man is so evil and unjust why do black Africans flee out of Africa to come to the white man they hate so much?


perrya profile image

perrya 5 years ago Author

Seems the treatises posted are veering off topic. The hub is only about the nonsensical war over Badme, which was just the igniting point between two countries hating one another.


viewer 5 years ago

please people stop hating each other and let Africa be one.we have every thing and the days of slavery is over.all those time we were not allowed to get the education that we needed but now join the revolution to eradicate illiteracy.what is the profit that is gained from splitting?it is most obvious that we can gain more from UNITY.so be strong and struggle the outside pressure.dont let history raise your name in disgrace.make history and a better place for the next generation to come.say no not to be fooled cause at least we know that funding artellery to kill your own brother is no help at all.so wake up Africa and Unite!!!!!!


End Game 4 years ago

Looks like this crazy war is flaring up again, last week Ethiopia carried out two attacks against Eritrea. Those two regimes are not going to quit until one side is destroyed.


perrya profile image

perrya 4 years ago Author

I agree. Ethiopia is receiving a lot of US aid.


End Game 4 years ago

The Ethiopian leader is now AWOL, no one knows whether he is dead or alive.


Tess 4 years ago

Ethiopia could not defeate Eritrea with out the help of USA. They were Eritrean fighters who helped Ethiopia to be free from their dictator president,Mengstu. I think it is USA which made the two friendly countries fight eachother. Neither Ethiopians nor Eritreans benefited from the war, but they were most Ethiopians who killed in the war, according to eye witnesses.


perrya profile image

perrya 4 years ago Author

No, the war was a border dispute, that is how stupid it was.


awle profile image

awle 2 years ago from Australia

I really enjoyed the read, but felt sad about so the huge loss in human life. So sad these countries (Their leaders) couldn't resolve the issue politically, or in other ways...thanks for the engaging report


Trump 3 months ago

The war is flaring up again.


perrya profile image

perrya 3 months ago Author

Another stupid war...

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