During the war, the EPLF fighting force grew to almost 110,000 fighters, almost 3% of the total population of Eritrea. The fragile peace-time economy cannot sustain such a large army, and in 1993, Eritrea embarked on a phased program to demobilize 50%-60% of the army, which had by then shrunk to about 95,000. During the first phase of demobilization in 1993, some 26,000 soldiers--most of whom enlisted after 1990--were demobilized. They received cash bonuses and six-month food rations, and many also took advantage of government loans, grants of farm land in western Eritrea, or vocational training courses. The second phase of demobilization, which occurred the following year, demobilized more than 17,000 soldiers who had joined the EPLF before 1990 and in many cases had seen considerable combat experience. Many of these fighters had spent their entire adult lives in the EPLF and lacked the social, personal, and vocational skills to become competitive in the work place. As a result, they received higher compensation, more intensive training, and more psychological counseling than the first group. Special attention has been given to women fighters, who made up some 30% of the EPLF's combat troops. By 1998, the army had shrunk to 47,000.
In order to fund the demobilization program, the government cut other expenditures, campaigned to raise voluntary contributions, took its first loans, and sought external aid. Germany, Italy, Israel, and the U.S. have provided help.
Although committed to demobilization, the Government of Eritrea has some legitimate security concerns and seeks U.S. assistance to upgrade its equipment and training with a goal of producing a smaller, more professional, and more efficient army. United States military assistance so far has included deploying in-country training teams, establishing a de-mining training program, ship visits during which U.S. service personnel contribute labor and materials for various community relations projects, and the training of Eritrean military officers in the United States.
The Eritrean Army is equipped with a hodgepodge of captured Ethiopian equipment, mostly of Soviet origin. Eritreans have proven particularly adept at maintenance, and in many cases have improved on Soviet designs.
Military branches: Army, Navy, Air Force
Military expenditures - dollar figure: $196 million (FY97)
Military expenditures - percent of GDP: 28.6% (FY97)