To Withdraw or Not to Withdraw that is the Question

Radio Erena: 19 May 2021

Office of the Spokesperson of the Department of State released on 14 May a report on the U.S Horn of Africa Special Envoy’s visit to the region. The first visit of the Envoy Geffrey Feltman took place on 4-13 May and Included Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Sudan. The report highlighted the U.S commitment to peace and stability in the region and expressed concern over the deteriorating situation in Ethiopia.

Although the meeting of the Special Envoy with the Eritrean President lasted for 4 hours, according to the Eritrean Minister of Information, the report has only this one line about the meeting: “In Asmara, Special Envoy Feltman underscored to President Isaias Afwerki the imperative that Eritrean troops withdraw from Ethiopia immediately.”

Judging from the scanty information about the meeting on the spokesperson’s report, one can safely infer that the meeting had been a monologue on the part of the President on the pros and cons of the TPLF with a wearisome historical background to its inception, development, ill intentions against Eritrea, and finally its catastrophic demise.

Eritreans are used to the hours’-long tedious lecturing of their Presidents. It seems that he didn’t spare the Special Envoy the pains of his whims. Just before the meeting with the Special Envoy in Asmara, President Isias met in Khartoum with the Sudanese Minister of Foreign Affairs Mariam AL Mahdi. The picture of the meeting showed him deeply indulged in some sort of professorial lecturing, an inseparable trait of his character. Likewise, his pose reflected utter disregard to diplomatic protocols. No wonder that tormenting his interlocutors and snubbing courtesy are his striking personality markings during his long years at the helm.

The Department of State report didn’t reveal much about the exceptionally long meeting, particularly the divergent points of views in Washington and Asmara regarding the withdrawal of the Eritrean troops from Ethiopia. As we have noted in an earlier article, the pressing American concern is how to secure an immediate and verified Eritrean troops withdrawal from Ethiopia. The question is: will Asmara be willing to pull out from Tigray? And at what cost?

A few years back, it never occurred in President Isaias’s wildest dreams that his army will one day occupy the capital of his nemesis. The dramatic changes in Ethiopia paved the way for the cornering and defeating of TPLF in a coordinated Eritrean-Ethiopian military operation, of which TPLF leaders also take the blame. Reconciling the views in Washington and Asmara on the immediate pull-out of troops from Tigray will be an immovable roadblock in the diplomatic mission of Ambassador Feltman. Withdrawal of Eritrean units from Tigray will mean that Abiy Ahmed’s “pacifying” efforts will soon crumble, as the Eritrean troops are the major player in the war in the region.

The withdrawal, on the other hand, will give the TPLF resisting forces the upper hand in the fight against the Ethiopian Federal Army; a military shift in the balance may also pose a deadly threat to Eritrea itself, a matter that Afwerki will avoid at whatever cost.

Despite diplomatic pressure, the Eritrean troops are there to stay. Pulling out will cause undesired political and military setbacks that run against the dictator’s wishes and plans. The stance of the Asmara ruler is unenviable: his troops can’t stay at ease or withdraw without life-threatening jeopardy.

At the outset, the wise choice was to keep out of the war altogether. Alas, such a decision demanded exceptional farsightedness. The unilateral withdrawal of Eritrean troops is not an option for Asmara’s dictator. To remove roadblocks in the path of full and transparent Eritrean forces withdrawal, sanctions and forceful measures are apparently inevitable.

By Fathi Osman