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The Battle of Shire – February 1989

A Turning Point in the Protracted War in Ethiopia

By Tekeste Melake

In the late 1980s the military government of Ethiopia found it­self in a very precarious situation as a result of the escalating war in Eritrea and Tigray. As of May 1988 the government focused its manpower and material resources for the war effort in the northern battles. However, at the battle of Shire (Dec. 28, 1988 -Feb. 19, 1989) its huge army was decisively neu­tralized by rebel forces. Almost two years and three months later the EPLF captured Asmara and the EPRDF occupied Addis Ababa, making the battle of Shire a turning point in the protracted war in Ethiopia. This paper is a brief account of the event and has been prepared primarily from authentic, original sources from the government and the concerned rebel forces.


The TPLF was founded in 1975 by a group ofTigrian university students most of whom were active participants in the Ethiopian student movement. The front began its guerrilla activities on 18 February of the same year. It made its zone of operation in the localities of Tigray, which are known to have been influenced by the protracted war in Eritrea. TPLF’s area of operation between 1975 and 1978 was mainly eastern Shire, eastern Axum and eastern Adigrat, all adjacent to Eritrean territory.

Partly because of its military preoccupation in Eritrea and Ogaden and partly because it underestimated the potential threat from the TPLF, the gov­ernment did not launch significant military campaigns into the region until 1978, although there were cases when the government made efforts to elimi­nate TPLF’s “suspected” members and supporters during the Red Terror. This, on the other hand, provided the TPLF with the opportunity to operate in the larger part of Tigray.

Later, however, the growing political and military activities of the rebels were not only felt by the government but made it launch better organized mili­tary campaigns into the region. Between November 1976 and early 1983 the government launched six major offensive campaigns against the TPLF. But none of these campaigns could attain their goals. The TPLF mostly avoided conventional resistance whenever the military balance of power was in favor of the government. It usually moved out of its liberated zones of operation downwards to Wello and the Assab Dessie road and averted planned govern­ment offensives. The front during this time largely depended on guerrilla war­fare to destroy government forces stationed in the different parts of Tigray.

No major offensive campaigns were launched during 1983-1984. The TPLF effectively used this period for reassessment and consolidation of its positions. In September 1984, following misunderstandings with the EPLF, the TPLF constructed its own supply line through Welquait, western Tigray to the Sudan.

The 1985 great famine and drought made hundred thousands of people flee to the Sudan. Relief Society ofTigray (REST) did its best to alleviate the problem through cross-border supply. The government on the other hand launched joint operations of its airforce and ground forces to stop flights of the drought and famine stricken Tigreans to the Sudan. Its efforts in this respect, however, failed. In June 1985, when the rainy season approached except for the children, elders and weak women REST brought back the hundred thou­sands of refugees from the Sudan.

On the other hand 1985 was also a year of significant advancement for the TPLF in many aspects. A congress of its members was held and a crucial re­assessment was made on the history of its ten years of struggle. After demo­cratically held discussions from top downwards to the smallest unit, the front purged some founding members and others such as Aragawi Berhe and Giday Zeratsion for political and disciplinary reasons.

With respect to its military strategy, the congress realized that the govern­ment forces were superior in terms of manpower, possession of weapons and other facilities. But it also knew that many of the government soldiers had been conscripted, trained and deployed by force. It then defined its new mili­tary policy to be “we should not fight the army but its leadership and liberate those who joined the army without their consent.”

The 1985 congress of the TPLF also considered the need for a permanent base area. In 1985/86 the rebels destroyed the bridge on the river Tekezze, blocked the Welqait-Tembien-Adi Da’ero roads and founded a permanent base area at Kazza and Dajana.

The TPLF was able to integrate itself with the people ofTigray. It defined its political line in a way to uphold the grievances of the people. Leaders and fighters of the front operated inside the people tasting the life of the poor peas­ant. Through time the rebels refined their political and military position through a series of corrective measures, produced disciplined, well-politicized and gallant fighters and managed winning victories over government forces. In both of its political and military operations it clearly identified and attacked targets. It objectively exploited government weaknesses and endeavored to win not only civilian support but also that of government soldiers. At times of both relative peace and fierce fighting it objectively addressed grievances of gov­ernment soldiers on class and nationality basis.

It has also been widely reported that the TPLF showed a good degree of hospitality to prisoners of war. As a matter of fact those who were allowed to rejoin the army went on disseminating pro-TPLF information among their colleagues. Soldiers who listened to them and who saw their colleagues being safely returned began to see submission to the rebels as a good opportunity to save one’s life. … continued on page 2

27 thoughts on “The Battle of Shire – February 1989

  1. I am not going to read the entire TPLF glorifying article nor will I let Tigreans rewrite history. The truth is the TPLF was almost finished at that battle as many that participated it from both sides would testify. I will however post an expert of Dimtsi Woyane Tigray radio’s reportage of the battle and let the readers make up their minds on who saved Woyane at that make or break hour. The radio praises and reports how EPLF mechanised division crossed the border to save the day. The songs that followed the report were all about Eritrean heros. Remember ‘Selam Selam do kibleka yikealo beal sire Jigna wedi Ere’. How can you forget! Expert of that radio reportage will follow….

  2. “In September 1984, following misunderstandings with the EPLF, the TPLF constructed its own supply line through Welquait, western Tigray to the Sudan.”


    Welqite was always part of Begemider/Gonder. Never been part of Tigry until woyane took it by force and illegally since 1991. And even since it is committing gruesome crimes against the people living there and occupying the territory with hundreds of thousands Tigre settlements bringing them from Northern, eastern and central Tigry. Tigry never had any boarder with the Sudan.
    What we see everything today in Ethiopia is a woyane made for its advantage by having all military, political, financial and other key powers under the power of the Gun and silencing until it breath the Ethiopian people. Ethiopians don’t have any right/ ability to say/ do about their country. Tigrs are doing what they what and that is only for their advantage at the expense of the rest. The witnesses are watching and the History book is recording everything what is going on in the country since 1991 they took power by force.

    The writing says about TPLF. But who created TPLF. Who trained and take care of it as a little baby until it grown up interring the Minilik palace and control the country behaving as primitive people in cities?

    There is no TPLF story/ history without EPLF. EPLF created TPLF. TPLF is a kind of dog biting its own owner/master (EPLF).

    So, people must not be cheated by any cheap and misleading past story of TPLF. TPLF with out EPLF has no history and story at all. Don’t make a rat like big Elephant. You know what I mean. Rat also has its time and it is a woyane short time. And let them do what ever they are doing that is crime against the innocent and Ethiopia for the sake of their stony, barren, dead and depreciated Tigry.

  3. This is a long and shabby article which is based on one side information-TPLF propaganda document prepared by the then Marxist Leninst Tigrai propaganda unit. Although some realities were mentioned in this article some of the fierce battles that TPLF lost many of its best combatants were deliberately missed by Ato Tekeste. On top of that the way Tekeste explains some areas like Wolquit was amazing. He was mentioning as ‘western Tigrai’ though he knows the new fictious history.

  4. Obviously the Tigrain dude is making an assss out of himslef, otherwise as the whole world knows the turning point of the war happened in 1988 when EPLF army annihilated the “Dadew E’z” at the battle of Afabet. The so called Shire operation took place so many monthes after the fact, and even at that if its wasn’t for the quick EPLF army rescue, the weak wings of Ethiopian army, not to mention few in numbers, stationed in Tigrai had already the Wayane on the run! But there it seems to be lying is simply embedded in the gene of Wayane folks!

  5. Some facts

    In 1975 10 boys and men including Meles from Adwa reached arrived in Asmara to go to nakfa to meet EPLF. Because of the security reason, the meeting didn’t take place. While the rest returned to Adwa, meles disappeared in Asmara. After 8 months he returned and begged the just started fighting Ethiopia TPLF members to accept him. They accepted him as a foot solder. The short meles was at the time very skinny, destitute and no one had taught he would survive even for a month in a gurilla life.

    When the secret revealed, during 8 months hw was disappeared, he was with EPLF getting training in order to use TPLF for EPLF interest. Then Sebhat Nega who was an elementary teacher at the time joined TPLF with the same reason meles was

    1988/89 TPLF cash saving was 0.25 cents. It is revealed by then the TPLF finance responsible at the time. From where the billion wealth TPLF has today come from? Every thing TPLF holds and including all investments in Tigry are the looted property from the rest of Ethiopia.

    1988/89 Meles and some others went to loot a bank in wello at night and when the security faced them meles run away leaving behind the only communication instrument they had which is a radio communication. The loss that old primitive radio became the sadest day to all TPLF members as the man described about. Meles was a leader for that looting event.

    The current woyane core members are most of them from Adwa, shire and Axum. Azeb is from Gonder( humera).

    The list is long. Add what you get about TPLF, meles, Sebhat, Azeb and the likes.

    I think EPLF members can say a lot about.

  6. Aha! So you know the military strategy of the TPLF? Why did not you win the 1998 war with Eritrea, hambar banda? You have omitted what you idiots did to the people of Tigray during their suffering and famine. Worthless, stanic bunches!
    Get out of Ethiopia and Ethiopians! Betraq ferriea! Why don’t you tell us how TPLF saved Shabia when your Yekallo was trapped at Sahal? TPLF saved you denbit-gihe! Terati!

  7. Another revisionist history by Woyanne in broad day light, what is unfortunate is that the author of this piece of revisionist history made it look like that the battle of Shire was the crowning achievement of TPLF over the Dergh army while minimizing the role of the EPLF in the decisive victory, we Eritreans know that Woyanne decided to restart cooperation with the EPLF when the Dergh army pushed the TPLF back, at that time (1988) the largest Dergh command known as the Nadew command was destroyed by the EPLF and the military balance of power decisively turned on EPLF’s side, when the TPLF was under duress the EPLF wisely responded to the TPLF’s change of heart and helped them win a decisive battle at Shire and beyond, but lets not forget that the main goal of the Dergh was not Tigray or any other Ethiopian region, the main goal of the Dergh was to hold on to Eritrea at any cost, that failed when the EPLF dealt the Dergh a blow at Massawa in an operation named Fenkil, after that the EPLF sent a sizeable force to shepperd the TPLF forces all the way to Addis Ababa.

    The moral of this post is to inform our Ethiopian brothers and sisters that the TPLF was not as strong as they are claiming to be in the late 80s and every major battle they fought against the Dergh was led by the EPLF mechanized brigades that made the decisive move to destory the Dergh army, as for the scale of the battles the battle of Shire or even the battles that followed were much smaller than the battles fought to destroy the Nadew Iz, Operation Fenkil and finally the destruction of the Dergh northern command in Dekemhare (45 kilometers south of Asmara). It is about time that woyanne propagandists get called on their revision of history and let the Ethiopians in the diaspora know the true story of what happened in the late 80s that led to the Demise of the Dergh regime.

  8. Wolqait and other parts taken from Gondar and Wollo will be returned one day. TPLF is now even trying part of Afar by settling Tigreans as Workers in the new Sugar plantation and factory. BRITAIN has forcefully gave freedom to its colonies and the areas taken by Woyane will be returned sooner or later.

    If the story is meant to tell us how invincible Woyane is you are mistaken. Saddam and Mengistu were also invincible when they were in power but look what happened at the end.

    If Meles cares for his Tigrean kins and for himself as an intelligent man should prove that he is better than the other tyrannts and learn from those who gave peacefully their power to their successors. Open your eyes and look around there examples to be learnt from other world leaders.

  9. The Derg defeated itself. The boasting article should know neither EPLF nor TPLF defeated the Derg. I urge readers to keep in mind the demise of the Derg, because the fate of our current leaders are following the same path of destruction and they will fall!

  10. What makes me laugh and showing me the kind of nightmares is that how is it possible TPLF becomes the way it is now.

    They are now beating EPLF even in the Internet distorting the History EPLF was participated but now is by TPLF alienated from it. I didn’t know EPLF/Shabia is too week to this level in the country as well as in Diaspora unable to match the childish, never trusted, uncivilised, dog kinds and with many bad behaviours TPLF members and supporters in Diaspora.

    The EPLF history achieved with many sacrifices is denied and become the TPLF history as the story here is saying. I think it is a big sign that EPLF/shabia is too weak to match any verbal as well as physical attack by the most hated, not trusted, criminal and looter Agames in Ethiopia as well as in Diaspora.

    If it goes with shabia like this, then bye bye EPLF/shabia. Your time is over when you became unable to stand for the truth and yourself against woyane.

    This is that woyane you knew. Your servants and dogs in the bush. What is wrong with you? You are the one till today making them able to do the worst things in Ethiopia. If you are serious about them and showing it from your heart doing in practise dealing with them accordingly, with in a day all Ethiopians will be on your side. You are just talking much and for long about you being against woyane. But doing nothing. If you are serious about, stop playing with different heart and tong. Just be frankly. Come together. Deal with them. Start with Diaspora Ethiopians and those living in Eritrea. Remember: Those about 80 thousand Ethiopians with Eritrean origin deported by TPLF inhumanly are Ethiopians. Even they can play big roles if you are serious about dealing with Woyane.

    Other than that we are tired of hearing shabia being against woyane. As long as we don’t see it in practise, we don’t believe it. Show us your position towards Woyane with your approach with Ethiopia oppositions started from Eritrea. Stop dividing Ethiopians under Ethnic lines. As ertrea does, we Ethiopians want to live as one people under one nation, which is Ethiopia. Don’t follow the TPLF ethnic policy towards Ethiopians.

    You are bordering the Entire TPLF base (Tigry). Instead of dealing with them in their home against their head, heart and other important parts of their existence, what are doing in the southern Ethiopia where they even have no any branch to lose if everything there is damaged. I think you have no power or you don’t want to deal with them. Instead you want to play with us playing with words rather than do something against woyane.

  11. Honesty is the mother of justice.

    How can you forget and ignor the
    EPLF’s mechanized brigade that
    anihilated the Derg’s infantry
    in Shire? How can you distort that
    the turning point of the military
    power of Ethiopia was the collapse
    of the “NADOW EZ” in Afabet, Eritrea?

    No, no! Don’t try to ceat us!

  12. The tplf is made of a bunch of blood thursty murderers and thugs. The guy is trying to paint these terrorist group as democratic and humanitarian. The fact of the matter is, the tplf wasn’t strong enough to defeat the Dergue army as the writer is trying to portray it, but there were other factors that came into play to cause the once powerful army to disintegrate in such short period of time. It is because of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the internal bickering of the army personnell from the top commanders to the lowest level that caused the once largerst and poweful army in Africa to dispurse in an unprecidented short period of time.

  13. Useless article indeed and redicules comments from either sides i.e. EPLF vs. TPLF. You can write so many thousands of pages of fictious history no body believes it but the truth is the military junta Derg was destined to collapse anyways.

  14. The widely accepted story is that The Governments experienced and well trained troops were stationed in Eritrea facing EPLF in a deadlock that took almost 28 years at the time while TPLF fought national service and poorly trianed small divisions.

    The fact that EPLF’s mechanized forces came to help the Shire battle tells the real story. If TPLF was enjoying successive victories in Tigray? why was the need for the deployment of those Eritrean mechanized forces to assist TPLF on the battle of Shire. The writer contradicts itself and made itself untrustworthy

    Tactical Retreat? this sounds familiar to me. TPLF’s existance as a rebel force was in question mark before the battle of shire when it was whiped out from all the areas it controled (tactical retreat -which was difficult to believe). This article seems TPLF’s account of the war story that glorifies TPLF to the level of invincibility.

  15. Tegadeli fool of lies, propaganda and distorting writing in the first page says

    “the TPLF constructed its own supply line through Welquait, western Tigray to the Sudan.”

    This is a total lie we all know about. It shows the purpose of this writing is to mislead the readers from a backward Tegadeli thinking Ethiopians are fool.

    As many say and we know the fact, Wolaqite-Tegede never been part of Tigry as Telemet, Alemwuha Zuria, raya ena akobo and other territories that are part of today’s woyanes Tigry never been, too . As we know, 40% todays Tigry territory, which is the only fertile, land it has Historically as well as naturally doesn’t belong to Tigry. It is illegally and by force taken Land from wello and Gonder.

    Western Tigry called Tembia. Even Tembia has a lot in common with Gonder than axum, agame and the likes. Yet, woyanes are saying us today that Wolqite-Tegede which is the most fertile land in Ethiopia is western Tigry. Fool

    Each and every Ethiopian student know all along about the Ethiopian Teqlai Gizat map that was always including on the cover of exercise books. You will never ever make your history with force and lies.

    We will see. Time is the best solution. The 6+ million Gondere will never let the Territories they historically and naturally attached with. Don’t you know the Gondere poets, singers, heroes and the likes saying about wolqite-Tegede, Janamora, Telmet and the likes?

    This writing is fool of lies and fakes for woyane propaganda reason. As many say, there is no woyane story and history with out EPLF. You cannot write a history/story about a dog without mentioning about the dog’s master roles in the dogs life. Woyane is an EPLF dog.

    Tigry never had and will not have boarders with Sudan.

  16. Wonderful historical essay! Pleasantly surprised that the editor actually posted it!! Fitting testimony to the bravery, tenacity, ferociousness of Ethiopians, which has been the case since time immortal. In this case, the side with more cause, determination, popular support and organizational leadership won the day. Ethiopia endured and will endure forever!

  17. This is the only way to uninflate Isayas and his gangs. They are proud of fabricated history. Now this TPLFite dude copies from his master! Good student indeed! Mind you I believe none. You were better of when you looted together. Now you are both a laughing stock at best.

  18. Why are we busy worrying about Raya from Wello and Welkait-Humera from Gonder going to Tigray?

    They are Tigrinya speaking people… obviously they are Tigrays.
    The map of them showing part of Gonder and Wello was because there was no ethnic lines in the past but today since it is by ethnic lines the Welkait,Humera who were Tigrinya speaking Gonderey and the Raya who were Tigrinya soeaking Welloye are not part of Tigray region.

    We have more things to talk about instead of this.

    Hell, Most of the Raya people and Welkait people are pro-TPLF/Weyane – why are we trying to go backwards?

    Meles Zenawi(seitanawi) wife Azeb Mesfin is from Welakait herself.

    Just because they were part of Gonder or Wello does not make them Amhara.

    Dont forget in Wello there are Amhara, Afar and Oromo as well as the Tigray Raya.

    Dont forget in Gonder there were Amhara, Agew, Felasha and Tigray Humera-Welkait-Telemet.

    Democracy le Ethiopia!!!!

  19. I agree with most of the comments here about the article. It has a good dose of embellishment of a somewhat true story. I think for those of us who were getting copies of major news magazines such the Time remember reading stories from the Northern front in Ethiopia about the battle at Afabet and sometimes later the capture of Massawa by the Eritrean fighters. It seemed to me that from there on it was downhill for the Derg forces and goverment. It looked to me then that the victory at Shire was the ice on the cake for the guerrilas. It seemed to be a fact that the TPLF and EPLF had found and pushed the right buttons after these major battles. Remember these battles were hard fought by gallant rank and file fighters on both sides. It is down right shame to see the sacrifices of those heroic children of both societies did not bear the fruit that should be enjoyed by these miserable peoples. In stead both countries have fallen prey to governance by cliques not by the will of the people. Sad..Sad…Very very sad indeed!!!!!!!!

  20. First to anonymous=primitive Tegadeli

    Nobody expects from you something good comes from you as a human being. You are an animal. How many innocent people have you killed, cause troubles and commit crimes in the name of Tigry? Many. Don’t shit with me. What you did to innocent Ethiopians and deported 80 thousands Eritreans inhumanly and only you from Tigry took their houses, Businesses, property and everything they had is the worst crimes ever made in Africa and one day you will pay for that.

    Dil le Ethiopia

    You said
    “Why are we busy worrying about Raya from Wello and Welkait-Humera from Gonder going to Tigray?”

    I think you didn’t read your woyane rubbish writing. He said “after we took land from wolqite, we brought people from Sudan to settle there except Children? Who are those people? They are Tigres. After woyane took power more than hundreds of thousands Tigres settles from Tigry came the areas including wolqite-tegede, Telmet, Alemwuha, raya and other areas. Especially wolqite-Tegede and Telmet became the woyane strategic plan. The majority people living there for centuries became now a tiny minority.

    And now you are telling us here that the people living there are speaking Tigrigna. Fool yourself. You will never ever fool others with your woyane mentality lots of innocents’ people blood in your hand and head. By the way in Tigry are living 8 Ethnic groups. You, the Amharas, Agews, Oromos, Irobs (Sahos), Afars, Tatars, Kunamas and others too. So, what are going to do with them? Of course it is easy and your specialization conducting ethnic cleansing as you are doing in Wolqite-Tegede and other areas and with Eritreans living in Ethiopia. But, believe me you are planting by choice lots of bad tries producing full of poison that one day you will eat or drink it by force. Time will tell.

    The best and easy way stop what you are doing and act as human do. You are just digging not only your grave but unfortunately….

    Good luck.

  21. amoraw,

    Please do not offend me and called me weyane.

    Everyone knows about the resettlements of Ethiopians from Sudan refugee into Welkait but that does not neglect the fact the people there were tigrinya speaking people.

    Do you think Tigrinya was just spoken in Welkait today?
    Every Welkait person opens his mouth with Tigrinya for thousands of years BECAUSE THEY ARE TIGRAY but they were taught Amharic in schools, just like the rest of Ethiopia.

    Did Azeb Meesfin start speaking Tigrinya just recently?
    Do all the Welkait people who are in Las Vegas, Ohio and Los Angeles just start speakign Tigrinya?

    Do the Raya Welloye just start speaking Tigrinya?

    It is there language.

    They can be Gonderey or they can be Welloye but they are not Amhara – they are Tigrinya speakings which make them Tigray ethnic group.

  22. Tekeste,

    Well, I am in short of words how to brand you. Either you are self convinced to believe these stories collected from different “sources” are true or you are stupid. Or are you trying to make us believe you are an insider? How do you explain the contribution of the TPLF bribed Oromo Generals (who recently fled to Eritrea)and their likes? I will assure you that you will one day read the true history form the horses mouth-the gallant children of Ethiopia !!!

  23. The article is written as such a crab loosing the truth. Let’s be all sensible TPLF did their part as Gurillas and thanked EPLF on due time for they would have absolutely done nothing with out EPLF, but history is changing as the much is striking the mother. TPLF got the power one way or the other and is a government now rulling people who never reasoned out in life: THE ETIOPIANS, people who are good to club hands and to brug words of no sense.

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