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?