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In fact, Eritrea’s role as a destabilizing force in East Africa has been in play since 1991 when Eritrean President Issayas Afewerki led the country to independence from Ethiopia. Since then, Eritrea has at various times gone to war with Ethiopia, Yemen, Djibouti and Sudan, the most bloody conflict being a border war with Ethiopia between 1998 and 2000 that claimed over 80,000 lives.
So, given its past track record, it wasn’t too surprising that even prior to the release of the UN report, the Inter-Government Authority on Development (IGAD) — a six-country security and economic partnership that includes Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan and Uganda — had called for toughened UN and African Union sanctions against Eritrea for its terrorist activities.
Ironically, however, Eritrea was once an American ally in the war on terror. In fact, Eritrea was one of the “coalition of the willing” — those nations that supported the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. That support was underscored in May 2004 by the Eritrean ambassador to the United States who said that Eritrea stood “ready to assist the United States in any way it can.”
However, by 2005 Eritrea had quickly slipped out of favor with the United States and much of the international community due to its repressive human rights abuses. So, by November 2006, Eritrean President Issayas Afewerki had reversed course and broke ties with America, claiming that the US was now “an historic enemy” of Eritrea.
At that same time, Afewerki began accelerating Eritrea’s descent into a rogue state by seeking ties with extremist groups and regimes all over the world. To that end, Afewerki began focusing Eritrea’s relations on countries like Libya, Sudan and Iran.
Most disturbing perhaps has been Eritrea’s push to become a military launch pad for Iran. Specifically, in 2008 Iranian ships and submarines reportedly deployed an undisclosed number of Iranian troops and weapons — long-range and ballistic missiles — at the Eritrean port town of Assab on the Red Sea.
The Eritrean-Iranian military agreement had been preceded by an accord between the two nations that called for Iran to “revamp, manage, and exercise complete authority” over production and maintenance of Eritrea’s oil refining facilities. As the world’s second largest importer of gasoline, Iran has been able to refine its crude oil in Assab to cover shortages it faces at home from Western sanctions on refined products.
Yet, all this nefarious activity has been unable to qualify Eritrea alongside Cuba, Syria, North Korea and Iran as a State Sponsor of Terrorism. Instead, it was named by the State Department in May 2011 as a Specially Designated Country — along with Israel — for “not cooperating fully with US anti-terrorism efforts.”
So, while some in Washington may not view Eritrea as being the greatest global threat, as demonstrated in the latest UN report, it’s certainly not been for a lack of trying.
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