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Forto 2013 – The Covert Angle

Much has been said about the January 21 event – now better known as the “Forto – 2013” operation, in which the PFDJ regime was shocked to its core, despite its typical and desperate tactics of playing down threats and feigning normalcy. Not only did the event scare the pants out of the cowardly dictator, but it also and more importantly, gave hope – much needed hope to a nation and a populace who have been bleeding to an agonizing slow-death for quite sometime now.

It has been only a mere four weeks since the event took place and contrary to the futile attempts of the PFDJ regime and its apologists to put a lid on it – it has become a much talked about and celebrated event – so much so that it has brought back memories of crucial turning points in our long struggle for liberation.

The battle of Togoruba for example was one such crucial turning point – if not the first and most crucial of them all. A few courageous men led by martyr Mohammed Ali Idris (Abu-Rijela) stood their ground and battled face to face against a well-armed enemy which out-numbered them by huge margins. The diminutive Emperor’s army’s mission was clear – to finish off once and for all the disturbance caused by a few bandits (tikit wombediewoch) referring to the Eritrean armed struggle which had been going on for a little over two years at that point.

Abu-Rijela and his comrades won the battle and decimated their enemy but even much more than that, they sent a message, a clear message which sent shockwaves through the spine of their enemy. Togoruba proved to all that the armed struggle sparked by martyr Hamed Idris Awate wasn’t a foray of a few disillusioned Muslim men as the enemy tried to portray it – but rather, it was an un-wavering struggle of and by a people who would stop at nothing to be independent and most of all – to be free, no matter what the cost. History has proven beyond any reasonable doubt that they were right – dead on.

Half a century later, recently martyred, Said Ali Hijay (Wed-Ali) and his comrades – a few men in all (if numbers matter at all) but undoubtedly representing a pool of over 200,000 conscripted compatriots made a stand against a wicked and a blood thirsty regime, in what is now known and celebrated as FORTO-2013 operation.

Again, just as in Togoruba, fear was never a factor. How else could these “few” but courageous men face a regime which has been fortifying itself for years,  building all kinds of layers upon layers of defences to foil any such threats to its existence – how else could they face it right in the middle of its own barracks in broad daylight and then call it to task?

Like many of their fore-fathers who preceded them in the struggle against injustice and subjugation – these young men of FORTO-2013 had courage – a lot of courage. Their mission was fraught with grave peril to their own lives – and yet they never wavered. Making a stand was very crucial for them and if the only way they could do that was through walking right into the belly of the beast – then so was it. The spark had to start somewhere, somehow.

Did the spark catch fire?  If looked at pragmatically – it did and it didn’t.

In so far as getting the message through – yes it did catch fire – in fact, a lot of fire. How Eritreans everywhere were galvanized to take action, the media blitz which brought the plight of Eritreans to the fore in a World which is so ambivalent to their cause, the shattering of the regime’s farcical façade of invincibility and above all – the unprecedented attempt to effect change by talking to the regime in the only language it clearly understands are but a few of the positive messages the operation managed to get through to all those who cared to listen.

Where the FORTO operation didn’t catch fire though is in the fact that the bloody dictator is still kicking, albeit with his tail between his legs this time around. The thug even managed to mumble a few words to his cabal of chauvinist worshippers.

But who is to be faulted for that?

Could it be the conscript army for not providing the much needed operational support? Or could it be the general populace for not seizing the moment to conduct an uprising?

Somebody must have goofed up, but who did?

After all, no one in his right mind would expect that in a country where almost 13% of the entire population is conscripted in the army with multiple, divergent and conflicting loyalties and allegiances – a country replete with all kinds of bloody warlords – no one in his right mind would expect that the task of removing the regime, cleaning up the carnage it had inflicted over the years and taking full control of the country could be delegated to a group of some two hundred soldiers – and even more implausible than that, to expect them to do it in one single operation. It just defies common sense.

So in all likelihood, the FORTO operation was meant to be a catalyst to either galvanize a popular uprising or perhaps to initiate a revolt by the rank and file of the conscript army against the entire HGDEF establishment. There is also a third scenario in which some believe that the operation was just a precursor of what is yet to come – a prelude for a bigger operation, that is.

Obviously the first two scenarios didn’t materialize and the third one remains to be seen – but again, in all likelihood, it is not coming anytime soon – if coming at all. I will explain the reason for this a little further down.

That said; no sane person could blame those courageous young men who risked life and limb to conduct the operation for a botched attempt. If anything, their operation was a complete success if seen from the angle of the scope and the parameters of setting a precedent and of sending a clear message to the regime and its support base.

It put the regime and all concerned on notice. But still, there must be a reason why the spark of the FORTO operation didn’t catch fire – the desired fire to bring the regime down.

This is exactly where the covert angle of the operation comes in.

It is no secret that over the past twenty years, Eritrea has been carved up into fiefdoms run by bloody warlords who have been running havoc in the country from one end to the other. It is no secret either, that these functionally illiterate thugs with ranks of “General” were hand-picked and installed by the bloody dictator to safeguard his ethnic agenda in its totality.

In other words, if it is ethnic cleansing, demographic re-configuration in towns and villages or social engineering throughout the country that is required to implement the final phase of the ethnic agenda – then these warlords would be willing participants. They had no rights to ask questions or to question motives – but just to follow orders and to play along. They didn’t object because theirs was never about a national struggle anyways – it was about following instincts – and morbid ones at that.

In return, these warlords/Generals get the full authority to run things as they see fit, they get to set their own rules and regulations (this comes in very handy as there is no rule of law in the whole country anyways) and above all, they are entitled to full immunity for past and present crimes as well as future transgressions.

Not bad, you would think, for a bunch of illiterate thugs who could hardly run their own affairs to be elevated to a point where they could rule over chunks of the country – their own private fiefdoms – so to speak. You would think that this is more than they could have ever dreamed of in their wildest dreams – right? Well no, not for them. It wasn’t enough.

The warlords turned their fiefdoms into horror houses where Eritreans of all walks of life were butchered, tortured, robbed, expropriated and enslaved to levels which no one could ever have imagined. The little pigs turned into big fat ugly hogs. With every day that passed, their racketeering, human-trafficking, human-organ harvesting and various other   crimes intensified both in scope and barbarity. They grew and honed their crime rackets so much so that they even took international dimensions to hook up with overseas crime rackets and bandits.

Their old fiefdoms were too small for them now, and obviously what this entailed was the inevitable turf wars between these warlords. Included in these turf wars was none other than the bloody dictator himself – reduced to just another petty warlord by now. All he could muster was a gang of body guards dubbed a “commando unit” (how ironic) and pockets of spy and enforcer networks scattered here and there.

As the warlords including the bloody dictator (a petty-warlord by power base) started stepping on each others toes, not only did their turf wars became more frequent, but also became more open. In other words, they all started doing their laundries in public. The flare-ups we have seen over the years where these warlords eliminated, tortured and imprisoned each others’ functionaries and errand boys attest to that fact.

Throughout this carnage, one thing that has remained constant at least so far is that the warlords haven’t started eliminating each other yet. They double-crossed each other, they defied, humiliated and ridiculed each other in public and they have eliminated and obliterated each others’ functionaries at will – but the only thing they couldn’t come to terms with is turning the guns on each other.

This may very well be due to the full and unbridled cognizance on their part that they are all equal partners in the horrific crimes committed against the Eritrean people and that if one goes; they all go. Without their front-man (the dictator), the warlords/Generals would be doomed as they will start to eat each other – and conversely, without his warlords/Generals, the cowardly dictator would be too exposed to survive even for a single day. It is a symbiotic relationship of sorts which sustains them all for now.

They could twist each others’ arms or pinch each others’ ears every now and then, but that is about all the pain they can afford to inflict on each other for now. This cardinal rule was very likely at full play during operation FORTO – thus explaining why the spark of the operation didn’t catch fire.

This is not to suggest in any way that all those who executed the FORTO operation were working for the warlords – no, not at all. But before we even delve into that, let’s just back up a little bit.

As explained earlier, Eritrea is a tiny country which is tightly controlled by a notorious, albeit a small group of warlords who have at their full disposal private armies, security apparatuses and numerous layered networks of spies embedded in every corner of the country. Moving a half-full Jerrican of kerosene (lamba) from a town to a nearby village could land an unsuspecting citizen in the gulags to be subjected to untold interrogation and torture. It is a country in which the youths couldn’t even move around from one town to another without all kinds of permit requirements.

So is it plausible under such a strict condition for a group of soldiers to drive their tanks half way across the country – all the way to the capital city without being detected and intercepted? This when even the dictator himself had prior information that such an operation was in the works?

Simple common sense would tell us that it is not possible; unless of course the warlord in whose territory this operation was planned gave a tacit approval. Martyr Said Ali Hijay and his comrades may or may not have been fully aware of the warlord’s real motives, but either way, they couldn’t have cared less because in the end, their mission was different from his. As they say in Tigrayit “asik tidale ketlai abuka ta’le” (till you are ready to strike, befriend your father’s killer).   

The warlord may have rubbed the dictator’s nose on the ground but as per the cardinal rule these thugs follow, it was obvious that this was as far as he had intended to go. You could see all his imprints in the nitokus ay’nitokus exchanges – he had already positioned his men in a way that would prevent the elimination of the paranoid dictator.

At the climax of the FORTO operation – Wedi-Ali and his comrades had to fend for themselves. Unlike the warlord’s men who went back to their den, they had no units or support base to go back to. This could mean only one thing:

Wedi-Ali and his comrades had no intention of going back anywhere; their mission was about going forward – all the way.

The fact that they were left alone to fend for themselves facing imminent death is proof enough that the FORTO-2013 wasn’t necessarily part of a bigger operation which has yet to materialize. It certainly was representative of the hearts and minds of the vast majority of the rank and file in the conscript army, but to say that it was only the tip of an imminent and bigger operation is a bit wishful.

If a requiem is in order for martyr Said Ali Hijay and all those who preceded him – then,   it is only befitting that we honour them all through direct and immediate action and not through wishful thinking.


The aftermath at enda HGDEF

The warlord recoils for now giving the dictator a reprieve – but the coward that he is, the dictator is still hysterically paranoid….  Thus – his old famous battle cries:

 “ The Muslims are coming! The Muslims are coming”

And Wuchu is confused as ever – “anta,  filipos aslameyti diya khoina? Kidi beli…”

“ ewe kullom aslam’yom “ retorted his mistress, adding “manjos b’Khilte Aynu indyu ri’yuwom”

It couldn’t get uglier than this, could it?



About Mohammed Ahmed

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  • Sami

    Your article is well written. I could not agree more about the nature of the killer, (dictator is too soft of a word to describe him), his so called Generals and his cronies who during the Forto uprising were shaken to thier core. The brave Eritreans who challenged the murderer on Jan 21st deserve the utmost respect for what they have accomplished.
    Having said that you seem to drive this notion that somehow the murderer hates Moslems more than christians and the sense I got from your article and others in Awate sadly enough is the “leader” of the Forto uprsing , Wedi Ali, was a moslem and see everyhting through a religous prism. The fact of the matter is the murderer does not care if you are a moslem or christian or a pagan so long as you challenge him, you will be killed or if lucky enough waste in the dungeons of Adi ABEYTO.
    As Eritreans, if we do not stay away from the regional and ethinc divisions that are plauging many countries, the situation we are in now under the murdere might be time where people say..hey may be it would have been better under the dictator because I am confident that the killer and his juntas are going to go away and I hate to see Eritrea divided by along religous and ethnic lines.
    So Awate ELITES please refrain from preaching Islam has been trashed under PFDJ because we all know how thousands of young christians had been jailed and killed under the brutal dictator.
    God Bless Eritrea

  • Habte Tsaada

    Dear Mohammed,
    I would like to thank you for a very insightful but less hatred-inciting analysis of the Forto incident. The article just puts every thing on a plate for everyone to see. One thing, i think, your article missed or intentionally avoided is the fact that Wedi Ali has been a functionary of the dictator since the time you could think of. He was just every HGDEFite colonel and general one could think of until operation Forto. So was Abdela Jabir. Well as to Mustafa Nurhusien…no need to talk about him. There is one hush-hush but plausible analysis coming from inside Eritrea regarding the “coup-de-tat”. The strife between the dictator and his cronies, and the groups of wedi Ali is but about power and the gold money. The release of prisoners and implimentation of the constitution is just a hoax. Think about it? Why would it take 12 years or 22 years for someone who really believes in release of prisoners who have not been tried? Did it just down on this group that there are political prisoners in Eritrea? It would also be interesting to find out what this group’s contribution was when the dictator clamped down the G-15 and other uprisings. It is just a public secret what Mustafa and Abdela jabir did then. In addition, it just beats me why this group besiege Forto when they could have besieged the dictator in his house, in his office, when he roams around the different zobas etc… How did this slip the mind of people who have spent more 40 years with the dictator and know well his spots inside out? I would have liked your analysis to include such things.

  • Very interesting specially when relating Togorba and Telay; it is exactly the same.
    Min Keren begesa dib Asmara ata, wokelas emir Isayas anteha

  • Zafu

    I enjoyed the analysis and agree with you sir wholeheartedelly. Thats why i dont see heated argument among awatian friends.

  • Zegeremow

    Most people have already forgotten the incident at Forto! It’s just a blip. Nothing more.

  • Mohammed Ahmed

    Thank you all for taking the time to comment on the article. Wad Ali’s call will definitely not go unanswered – it is just a matter of time.

    Best Regards

  • Jamil

    Selam M. Ahmed,

    Well done. We need such a professional and constructive article.

    Thank you Mohamed for spending your time in writing this article and I am sure all will benefit from it, except PFDJ and those who stands with them.


  • Dear Mohammed
    Wadi Ali is the son of his fathers
    Awate, Wallalo,and Shamsi.
    you claried all hidden points.

  • Petros Haile

    Selam Mohamed,

    “Did the spark catch fire? If looked at pragmatically – it did and it didn’t.”

    I really like the article, specially your descriptions of various powers at play. I agree we have regional, ethnic and simply a power based thugs across the land, I also believe its in the nature of a dictator to use any means to subdue the population from a potential revolt, I agree dictators can also be pragmatic to prolong their survival … thank for elaborating how power works, And you are right, this power based rebellion may end up serving primarily the warlords interest, excluding Comrade Ali, for the reason you eloquently described, and on the merits of the demands of the rebellion itself … However, on your upcoming article , I am hoping you will do a follow up, to share your wisdom on the other categories of potential thugs and warlords that evidently became an obstacle for the spark not to become a fire, I am referring to the divided opposition political groups, and its dependent civic associations … unplanned and emotionally triggered actions seems to indicate a one step progress and a multiple steps regression … in fact, on occasion it resembles that they employ similar strategies and pragmatic calculations to that of PFDJ rule, the only difference is these emerging movements have not been tested yet, but as far as destroying each other politically, and working towards division, rather than compromising and working for some sort of coalitions on a minimum agendas, and taking advantage of their ethnic and religious comfort zones, is more visible today among the mentioned “emerging” powers. While you are at it, I am hoping for you to share some of your insights on how to become an effective civic organizer, or how to organize an effective civic organization that will have a tactical and strategic impact … Although, the random and emotionally triggered public protest is OK, provided the necessary urgent response to the development of the day, but it will not make a dent to the dictators way of rule, or its international standing … with all honesty, “Down, Down Dictator …” or barging into the Embassy compounds would not give us the upper hand, or change the balance of power in the diplomatic world … in short, please advise us on how to ignite the fire from the many sparks we have had so far, until one sensible and resourceful individual or organization courageously hold some sort of seminar on the issues of – How to form a coalition, How effectively engage on public protest and some other techniques that hopefully shorten the life of the dictator and brings about the long awaited salvation to the people of Eritrea …

    Thank you Mohamed,

  • haile

    Dear Awate,

    Here is a suggestion. Could you please ask your writers to place a short summary of the main ideas in their article at the top. I am talking about few lines at the top, as a standard submissions requirment, to let the reader decide if the given article is worth spending their time on. Otherwise, this has become an abuse by other means. How come people simply go through “terara ena sheleqo” round about of rhoteric to simply say nothing more than a figment of their imagination. We read them because you published them. If assenna published it, or anything that assenna publishes, is a no go area to me because that website is unruly and irrisponsible. But when awate publishes, I do read. So the writers and contributers are benefitting from your reputation (technically they should pay you becouse you are getting them read, but that is another topic). Hence, you need to put them to task and ask them to use a standard of submission that would let your readers know whether to continue or move on. If they don’t pay you for getting them read by massive audience, then don’t take the reputational loss when they hang up here a sheer time wasters here. This article is one of them.

    • T..T.


      If you mean abstract (a brief opening summary on the content of the article) that goes for scholarly articles. Otherwise, ending summaries appear to be the case in all articles here, which serve to summarize the main ideas.

    • abderahim gime

      Haile, you got a real point here re the value of an opening paragraph stating the remit of what one is posting.

  • Habtu

    Thanks Mohammed Ahmed for this well analysis . Really Awate site contrbutes to the eritreans by bringing alot of source of information by posting in the site the work of bunch of qualified writers such as you whom help us to see things in a bigger picture. I command Awate team for that and keep it up!

  • samuel

    By the way I like to congratulate Awate for this wonderful article. Very professional work

  • samuel

    No dictator ever live in peace. So dont worry my brothers this blood thirty dictator is on his way to hell. In fact he knows this he is already living in fear.

  • Asli

    Hard talk by Eritrean fighter in Simer pal talk
    Wedi Liya(Mulugeta teweldemedhien) clarified The killing many Eritrean fighters in the name of national security, Defeat of Eritrean army in Badme area and what DIA killed by the so called Eritrean jihad. Very important speech and following the speech will give you the ultimate target of DIA.

    • Senifalu

      Mulugeta Gebremedhin Habtom (Wedi Liya) – Eye Witness Account On PFDJ Crime

      • Habtu

        Oh my God I can’t believe what I heard from Wedi Liya!! This truley cleared the mask out of EPLF leaders then and EHGDF now. The ture leabrators who actully went for Eritrea freedom had been decieved big time. Nevertheless, this explains that EHGDF took the whole nation in captivity run it as a corporation which benefits only group of people. Poor Eritrean people who lost their relatives. Is this means the martyers wasted their life for EHGDF hidden agenda? However, Eritrean people are wise and I am sure soon or later the truth will prevail and will discover who is their real enemy was.

  • Briliant analysis Mohammed Ahmed as always!


    “እዞም ኣምሓሩ ተጋሩ፣ ምዓስ´ዮመ ክምሃሩ”

    ተደንግጹ ኦሮሞ፣ኣምሓራ፣ናይ ትግራይ ተጋሩ
    ዘድሊ ገዲፍኩም ናብ ዘየርብሕ ነገራት ተዘምብሉ
    ሃገራውነት፣ብኢኮኖምያዊ ስልጣኔ ድኽነት ትወግሩ
    ዩኒቨርስታት ብምብዛሕ፣ ሓንጎል ሰብ ተዙሩ
    ብናይ ዘረባ ናጽነት፣ደንቆሮ ተጋልጹ,ንሓፋሽ ዘየድሊ ተኽብሩ
    ድሓር ኣእዱግ እንተልናኩም ቀደም ኔርኩም ትቑርቆሩ
    ሎም ድኣ እንታይ ረኺቡኩም፣ብጥራጥና እኳ ዘይትሻቐሉ፧
    ካባና ካብ ጎረባብትኹም ቁሩብ ዘይትምሃሩ !!!!
    ኤርትራዊ ብፍጥረቱ ምሁር´ዩ ኮሌጅ አንታይ ክገብረሉ ?
    ቅልጽሙ የጎልብስ ኣሎ ፣ክንደይ ጎደጒድ ፍሒሩ
    ሲናይ ቱሪዝም ምዃኑ ወዲ ኣፎም ኣበሲሩ
    ንስኻትኩም ኤለትሪክ ፣ንሱዳን ኬንያ ሼጥኩም ከተሳግሩ
    ንዕቀት ንሽምዓ ድዩ እንታይ እዩ ነገሩ ፧
    ኤርትራዊ ሉቺ ስለ ዝኾነ ካብ መፈጠሩ
    ኩራዝ ይጥቀም ኣሎ environment ክሕለወሉ
    ህዝብኹም ማይ ከም ድላዩ ዝሰቲ ሓላፍነት ዘይብሉ
    ናትና ተሰሪዕካ.. ኣብ ሰሙኑ እዩ ህዝብና ጎረርኡ ዘጥልለሉ
    ውሓጥቲ፣ኮለስቲ,ንስኹም ምግቢ ብምሕያኽ ስቅያት ክትፈጥሩሉ
    ንሕና ግን ኴንና ስለ ንሓልየሉ
    ሓንቲ ባኒ ን 5 ስድራ እዮም ዝካፈሉ
    ህዝቢ ኤርትራ ካብ ህዝቢ ወጻኢ ዮሃናኡ ተቐበሉ
    ግንቦት 24 ካብ ጨቋኒት ኢትዮጵያ ንዘልኣለም ዝተፋታሕናሉ !!!!

    The brilliant Mehretu Habte

    • MEHRETU HABTE teref knatom yendehdhwo


        Do you even understand..the SATIRE..I hope you are not Tigraway of Tigray..You could not be this ignorant.
        Try to understand the massage..do not be like the 50++++ tigrawot with inferiority complex..or go learn some commonsense.
        Weyane are miracle workers..that brought Ethiopia from the abyss to dignity,..unfortunately there are inferiority complex ridden people they still have to lift.

  • T..T.

    Isayas knows that our people are peace loving and law abiding that condemns violence and use of force. For such law abiding people, Isayas’s rule of jungle is hellish and mockery that compels our people to live in hell and fear. Mohammed Ahmed, I think, you are saying that Isayas did blind the eyes of those generals through corrupting them and those around them. So, anti-corruption must be our primary call.

    No doubt, consolidation of power into the hands of the few corrupt generals can easily be won over through anti-corruption rule than power consolidated into the hands of the ruling party. BTW, does the party exist? If it does, the party members should also call for anti-corruption rule as a face saving move to lift the heads up of it diaspora members. So, the diaspora pro and anti Isayas agree here and should work together. Mind you, we are talking about change to save Eritrea.

    That said, now we focus on Isayas’s other innocent fans. Isayas, like Haile Selassie, depends on moldable (Tchika Adi) people to represent his abusive governance. Moreover, he uses power rotation of leaders and station rotation of conscripts to keep them always guests to this world because they lack confidence to say out any word. On this two, the Forto operation is an eye opener that there are people around them to talk to about change. So, let’s help them to sing the Forto song and free their expression with the help of border-crossing reading materials and radio/TV stations.