Several report – some smuggled out of Eritrea – all point in the same direction: President Isaias is engaged in a mass mobilisation in an attempt to finish off the Tigrayan resistance.
As ever, it is impossible to confirm these reports. Eritrea allows no foreign journalists to be based on its soil and has suppressed all its own independent media. Even diplomats based in Asmara are unable to travel freely to gather their own information about events.
This is what the reports say.
- On Tuesday, 26th January, Dade Desta Tweeted this:
- On the same day Arbi Harnet (Freedom Friday) sources working underground inside Eritrea sent a warning that preparations are nearing completion for a renewed offensive in Tigray. The offensive is being finalised, with commanders being informed that this will be the ‘final’ offensive to annihilate the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). Our sources say this ‘final’ offensive is being launched in the light of increasing pressure from the international community to halt the war.
- Today (28th) another source with good links to Eritrea says that the Eritrean offensive involves the mobilisation of up to 200,000 fresh troops. This huge number has been achieved by enlisting several categories of conscripts who might have previously been exempt. This includes women with very young children, retired soldiers and some children as young as 16.
All the information suggests that the Eritrea plan is to finish off the Tigrayan resistance before international pressure forces the Ethiopian government to access to Tigray for aid and reporters.
Tensions between Ethiopian and Eritrean allies
It’s been clear for some time that while President Isaias and Prime Minister Abiy may get on well, the same cannot be said of their military.
- At the beginning of January Major General Belay Seyoum, Commander of the Northern Command of the Ethiopian National Defense Forces told a meeting in the Tigrayan capital, Mekelle that the presence of Eritrean troops on Ethiopian soil was “painful.” “We don’t want it,” he declared.
- On 26th of January the Belgian think tank, Europe External Programme with Africa (EEPA) reported that fighting had “begun between Eritrean forces and Ethiopian National Defence Forces around Kwiha, near Mekelle. There was conflict among ENDF and Eritrean troops in Adigrat on 24/1. According to sources, Eritrean troops wanted to transport Ethiopian tanks to Eritrea but ENDF soldiers resisted. Later they start shooting at each other and dozens of ENDF and Eritrean troops have been killed and wounded.”
- On 27th of January EEPA reported that “demands in Ethiopia are growing that Ethiopia should defend its territorial sovereignty. However, this position is undermined by increasing numbers of Eritrean troops entering Tigray or consolidating their positions. Yesterday a new trend was reported of clashes between the Eritrean and Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF), who are allies in the fight against the TPLF. The fighting between Eritrean forces and Ethiopian National Defence Forces has continued today in Kwiha, a suburb of Mekelle town.”
- On 28the of January EEPA reported that “Brigadier General Abraha Kassa, Director of National Security of Eritrea, was in Addis Ababa on 25/1. There was a disagreement among Eritrean and Ethiopian higher officials during the meeting at the 4 Killo Palace, the office and residence of the PM. Various sources reported altercations, with some reporting gunshots and a report of people having been shot, possibly even killed; the exact number of casualties is unknown due to variance in reports.”
These reports cannot be confirmed, but again they point in the same direction: that tensions are increasing between the Ethiopian and Eritrean military.
They come against a background of fighting across large areas of Tigray. While the Ethiopian and Eritrean forces hold many of the cities, much of the countryside is held by the Tigrean resistance.
Growing international concern
These developments take place as pressure is growing on Eritrea to leave Tigray.
- As the BBC reported: “The US has called for the immediate withdrawal of Eritrean troops in Ethiopia’s Tigray region. ‘Credible reports’ had emerged of their involvement in human rights abuses, including sexual violence and looting, the state department said. This is its first statement on the conflict since the Joe Biden administration took office last week.”
- The European Union is considering imposing sanctions against Ethiopia.
- The British government has expressed its concern about the war and reports that Eritrean refugees are being forced to return to Eritrea. The Foreign Office has called for humanitarian access to Tigray.
None of this external pressure has so far succeeded in halting the fighting, or allowed access to Tigray by humanitarians or journalists. But it would appear that Eritrea is worried that the mounting pressure could limit their attempts to crush the Tigrayan resistance.
Meanwhile, tensions between Ethiopian and Eritrean forces appear to be growing. How these trends develop remains to be seen.