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Thierry Henry

Wikileaks: ONLF is a threat to TPLF survival

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1.© Introduction: This report is part 2 of a two part assessment of the insurgency/counter-insurgency in the ******. Part 1 (reftel) detailed the current conflict dynamics in the ******; this message provides an analysis of the reasons behind the Government of Ethiopia's (GoE) and Ethiopian National Defense Forces, (ENDF) hard and rough response in the region. It also provides recommendations about a way forward for interaction with the GoE in the search for a sustainable resolution to insecurity in the ******.


Summary -------


2.(S/NF) Although low-level ONLF-ENDF conflict has simmered for years, the ONLF's April 23 attack on a Chinese oil exploration site at Abole triggered the ENDF's shift to the use of extreme force trapping the civilian population between the insurgents and the government forces, and further stressing an already underdeveloped and historically marginalized region. In Post's assessment, unlike the enduring insurgency, the Abole attack prompted such an extreme, visceral GoE and ENDF response because it threatened the ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front's (EPRDF) vision for economic development, it posed a fundamental threat to the GoE's authority, and it embarrassed the ENDF making the military and government appear to the outside world as unable to control and secure its own territory. Because, the GoE's core Tigrean People's Liberation Front (TPLF) sees in the ONLF an image of itself two decades ago when it overthrew the brutal communist Derg regime, Prime Minister Meles and his Chief of Defense Force, General Samora Yonus, consider it vital to eliminate the ONLF before this insurgent group gains wider support. For the GoE, the ****** counter insurgency operation is vital to the survival of the ruling EPRDF. Further, the ****** is closely linked to Somalia where Ethiopian troops are bogged down but where the ONLF receives support and safe haven from clans opposed to Ethiopia. Every major clan and sub-clan in Somalia is represented in the ******.


3.(S/NF) Given the international media attention and the GoE's response, the ONLF must see that it has struck a chord with the Abole strike. As the international community in Addis recognizes that a sustainable peace in the ****** requires political accommodation between the GoE and ******i people, they now face a time to decide if we should explore the possibility of facilitating such an accommodation or refrain to focus only on the humanitarian symptoms of the underlying conflict. End Summary.



ABOLE WAS DIFFERENT; IT'S THE ECONOMY -------------------------------------


4.(S/NF) Economic Concerns: Being entirely dependent on petroleum imports


-- which at the current historically high global prices cost Ethiopia over 75 percent of its export revenues


-- Ethiopia is eager to exploit and commercialize its vast estimated oil and natural gas reserves, which mostly lie beneath the ****** area. Furthermore, in light of the ADDIS ABAB 00003404 002 OF 004 EPRDF's vision for Ethiopia which includes a heavy government role in promoting &accelerated capitalist development,8 the GoE has found in China a cheap, eager, and reliable partner to implement infrastructural expansion without nagging about human rights, social equity, or environmental concerns. By striking a Chinese firm exploring for oil, the ONLF


-- either intentionally or inadvertently ) threatened two sacred tenants of the behind the government's economic philosophy. That the attack at Abole was one of the ONLF's largest attacks in recent years and shockingly successful


-- even surprising the ONLF ) posed a further, political threat to the EPRDF and its core TPLF.


5.(S/NF) Political Concerns: Not only was the brutal ONLF attack at Abole a brazen act, but it marked a more deadly departure from prior type attacks by the ONLF in the past. Further, the attack was an embarrassment for the ENDF, its failure to protect the oil project site and respond immediately against the attackers. More important, the ONLF attack came at a time when Somalia operations had the ENDF bogged down and extremists vowed to take the war to Ethiopia to cut off supplies and logistical support. The ONLF's public statement following the attack insisting that it would play a role in determining the future and economic development of the region was certainly perceived as a direct threat to the GoE's authority in the region.

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IT IS A COUNTER INSURGENCY OPERATION ------------------------------------


6. (S/NF) The Ethiopian leadership has stressed in public and in private that the ****** counter insurgency operation is critical to the security (and survival) of the government, and that the ONLF must be neutralized. Second, the ****** is very much tied to Somalia. The ONLF has safe haven in Somalia from clans opposed to the GoE. Prime Minister Meles points to the declaration by extremists in Somalia to take the battle into Ethiopia and argues that the infiltration into Ethiopia by extremist figures like Aden Ayrow justifies GoE's prosecution of a brutal and excessive counter insurgency operation in the ******.


7.(S/NF) But the problem with foreign insurgents and extremists, including Eritrea's support for extremist activities in Somalia, are viewed in the context of supporting, or being supported by, the ONLF. The role Eritrea plays in Somalia, for instance, is probably insignificant. Although there is significant speculation and circumstantial evidence of Eritrean support, Post has received no explicit evidence provided by any source outside of the GoE that shows significant Eritrean support for the ONLF, and certainly no evidence of any notable increase in such support in recent months to prompt the observed counter-insurgency response.


8.(S/NF) For the GoE, the suspicion that the ONLF has possible connections with extremists and Eritrea underscore the necessity to eliminate them. Post has explained to the GoE that while the ONLF is not a terrorist group, we recognize the probability that there are some individuals within the ONLF that may be supportive of extremist groups. It is not the ONLF as an organization, but individuals within the group.



HISTORY REPEATING ITSELF? ADDIS ABAB 00003404 003 OF 004 -------------------------


9.(S/NF) It is our assessment that Prime Minister Meles and the GoE leadership likely view the ONLF as a long term threat to the survival of the EPRDF government. A group from a region representing six percent of the population, the ONLF in many ways is similar to the TPLF, which represents seven percent of the population but was able to overthrow the previous Derg regime. It is apparent from our conversations that the Prime Minister, General Samora and other TPLF/EPRDF members view the military defeat of the ONLF now as critical to prevent it from posing a threat to the government in the future.


HOW THE GOE PERCEIVES THE U.S. ROLE -----------------------------------


10.(S/NF) Ethiopian military leaders appreciate and take seriously our information sharing on international terrorists who have, and may again, operate in the ******, like Aden Ayrow. They want to cooperate with us on counter terrorism activities because it is in their national security interests to do so. General Samora sees the counter insurgency actions against the ONLF as a key first step toward, and a logical extension of, our counter terrorism operations -) elimination of the ONLF will lessen insecurity in the ****** and make it more difficult, if not impossible, for the likes of Ayrow to continue to operate in Ethiopia. As such, the GoE would like to enlist U.S. support for Ethiopia's counter insurgency program. This poses problems for the U.S, which considers the ONLF a domestic issue, though elements of the ONLF may very well support extremist operations.


11.(S/NF) While Prime Minister Meles praises U.S. support for the ENDF, Ethiopia's position in Somalia, and Ethiopia's development, there are some within the ruling party's central committee who question U.S. relations. General Samora and others have been very clear in their criticism of the U.S. for our lack of support for Ethiopia's counter insurgency against the ONLF. TPLF hardliners have argued that the USG has collaborated with ONLF last year when CJTF-HOA civil affairs teams around Gode encountered ONLF elements at roadblocks but were allowed to pass unharmed. The May 2007 unauthorized diversion of a CJTF-HOA team into a restricted area of the ****** further fuels hardliners' conviction of USG support for the ONLF. Hardliners also point to ONLF fundraising in the U.S., meeting with members of Congress and their staffs, and relatively favorable New York Times reporting on the ONLF. This perceived lack of USG support undercuts U.S.-Ethiopia military relations.

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WAY FORWARD: PROPOSALS FOR ADVANCING OUR INTERESTS --------------------------------------------- -----


12.(S/NF) The core American interests in the ****** region are to prevent human suffering and protect vulnerable populations, ensure that genuine terrorists and extremists do not gain a foot hold in the region, and enhance regional stability and security. The current conflict dynamics, and particularly the humanitarian impacts of the counter-insurgency, fundamentally undermine all three of these objectives. We need to: 1) have a frank discussion with the GoE, in coordination with the international community, on Ethiopia's counter insurgency operations, noting that military action alone will not bring a lasting ADDIS ABAB 00003404 004 OF 004 resolution, and 2) sustain a more comprehensive approach which includes a forceful and consistent emphasis on unrestricted humanitarian aid deliveries and on commercial food and livestock trade is essential. Finally, political dialogue with the ONLF could be key to resolving problems and opening political space with the people of the ******.


13.(S/NF) The U.S. lead in pressing the Government to open corridors for humanitarian deliveries has met with modest success. The Ambassador passed a copy of General Petraeus, manual on counterinsurgency to the Prime Minister to emphasize U.S. best practices in mounting a counter-insurgency operation while mitigating negative impacts on civilians. UNOCHA has negotiated opening of 174 feeding sites -) and there are indicators of agreement for access without military escort for roughly half of these sites


-- and the World Food Program reports deliveries of over 9,000 tons of food in recent weeks, more than in the past three months. The international community credits the U.S. for its leadership in this effort, but more still needs to be done to avert anticipated mortality from the insufficient deliveries of food since April


-- WFP assesses that 52,000 tons of food is urgently needed to meet the needs of the region.


14.(S/NF) Finally, the diplomatic corps believes the GoE needs to reach out to the ONLF. The ONLF has refused direct dialogue with the GoE and negotiations through Ethiopian Elders. Pressure and persuasion on the ONLF and private intercession with the GoE to secure their commitment to engage sincerely with ******i leaders on a more sustainable political and economic accommodation may help facilitate a political process. If left unaddressed, the ONLF could forge alliances with, or draw support from, extremists from Somalia, perhaps ultimately undermining the GoE and the EPRDF's grip on power, U.S. interests, and security in the region.

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Three things stand this cable, the TPLF is highly paranoid and its foundations are not firmly rooted. The ONLF is becoming a force to reckon and TPLF did not succeed in convincing Uncle Sam that ONLF is terrorist and the suffering of the people is acknowledged within the corridors of State Department.

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