Dismantling Special Forces afoot as regional states fear security gaps
The decision of the federal government to dismantle the regional states’ Special Forces has led to confrontations between the Special Forces and the federal government. As the Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF) moved to assume the security responsibilities of the regional states, tension arose between the Amhara regional state’s Special Forces and the national army.
The federal government stated that the Special Forces of all regional states must be reorganized and provided three options: joining the ENDF, the regional states’ police forces, prison administration police, or civilian life.
Sources indicate that commanders of the Special Forces and leaders of the ruling party have met and reached an agreement regarding the dismantling of the Special Forces. As ENDF moved to take over the posts, however, the decision has encountered setbacks and disputes.
Tensions have increased, particularly in Bahir Dar and Gondar.
“There is disinformation circulating. The restructuring of the Special Forces is being implemented in all regional states at the same time. The restructuring of regional Special Forces was decided after detailed studies, and it is being implemented with caution,” Selamawit Kassa, state minister of Government Communication Services (GCS), said on Friday, during a press briefing on the issue.
Since the political shift five years ago, there has been considerable concern regarding the number of Special Forces in regional states.
Regional states are authorized by the 1995 Ethiopian constitution “to establish and administer a state police force and to maintain public order and peace within the state.”
The constitution mentions formal police forces that are only armed with light weapons. Heavy weapons are permitted for ENDF. However, as regional states have grown stronger and more assertive in recent years, nearly all have established their own heavy-armed special forces. There are hundreds of thousands of Special Forces in total, with the Oromia regional state leading the way.
In contrast, the incumbent has argued that Special Forces are unnecessary at this time.
“Currently, Ethiopia is at peace, and Special Forces are unnecessary. To deter both internal and external threats, it is preferable to have a strong national defense force,” Selamawit said.
The State Minister asserts that those who argue that Special Forces must remain are in favor of an Ethiopia that is not unified.
She stated, “Special forces must be reorganized.”
As the taskforce committee formed by the federal government attempts to implement the decision to dismantle the Special Forces of the regions, the regional states are expressing concern.
Some regional state officials with whom The Reporter spoke stated that removing Special Forces would compromise the security of the regional states. While the Amhara region views the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) as a significant security threat, Oromia is concerned about the OLF-Shene, and Somali is worried about Al-Shabaab.
“There will be no security gap. The ENDF is already on the move to take over the roles of the Special Forces and ensure the security of all regional states. The regional state’s security concern will be addressed by the ENDF,” Selamawit told The Reporter.
Political parties, including the National Movement of Amhara (NAMA), have issued statements urging the government to reverse its decision to dismantle the Special Forces. On the other hand, Ethiopian Citizens for Social Justice (Ezema) argued regional Special Forces are illegal and must be reorganized under the federal forces. Though Ezema supported government’s decision, it cautioned the process requires the skill of de-miner.
One of three factors led to the government’s decision to dismantle the Special Forces, according to analysts.
After the TPLF agreed to disarm and demobilize its special forces, the government determined that no other regional state should be permitted to maintain a police force that exceeds the norm.
The country’s growing number of regional states is the second factor. Several ethnic groups and zones are vying for the status of regional states. However, the government is concerned that allowing Special Forces will consume resources and pose a security risk.