The government of Ethiopia, having launched the war on Tigray in November 2020 with the aid of Eritrea’s army, the Amhara militia and Somali troops, is now spreading its web wider.
Ethnic militia from Oromia, Sidama, and the Southern Nations Nationalities have now joined the battle. Amhara special frorces are already fighting in Tigray.
Moving from disciplined (or semi-disciplined forces – as in the case of Eritrea) to ethnic militia and special forces, would appear to be an acknowledgement by Prime Minister Abiy that conventional forces have failed.
Red Star recalled
For those with long memories, this ethnic mobilisation has echoes of 1982 and the “Red Star” campaign launched by the Derg. An army 100,000 strong, supported by massive resources from the Soviet Union, were sent in a “final offensive” to break the Eritrean defences of the EPLF. But this huge peasant army proved to be less than successful.
The offensive came close to success, but was finally broken, leaving some 33,000 Ethiopians dead. Are we seeing a similar development?
Tigray now appears to be fully mobilised, with almost all parties and groups joining the TPLF dominated Tigray government’s fight for survival. The Tigray Defence Forces (TDF) is a truly national organisation, led by people who did not necessarily back the TPLF until last November.
The TDF has made enormous strides in recent weeks in taking back areas of central and southern Tigray. But now they face a dilemma. Do they strike West, to join up with Sudan, crossing large areas captured by the Amhara and which Amhara claim as their own? Or do they strike East, and attempt to find a route to Djibouti?
Two other options are possible. There has been some talk of going North to remove Isaias. And there is even the option of pressing onwards to Addis.
The question of how to take the war forward rests with the Tigrayan leadership. None of the options are easy.
But with PM Abiy mobilising ethnic militia, and President Isaias still in occupation of areas of northern Tigray, digging in and trying to consolidate the territory that the TDF has re-captured would seem hard to sustain – particularly when the needs of the people of Tigray are so acute, and the flow of supplies into the famine hit region are so patchy.
Hard choices will have to be made.
Officials from Oromiya, Sidama, and the Southern Nations Nationalities and Peoples’ Region said their forces had joined the army, known as the Ethiopian National Defence Force (ENDF), which withdrew from most of Tigray late in June.
A fourth region, Amhara, has already been locked in conflict with Tigray since the war erupted in November. Both Amhara and Tigray claim the fertile fields of western and southern Tigray.
In the past week, Tigrayan forces have retaken much of the south, but the west is heavily militarised.
“We have already deployed our special forces and they will join ENDF. Our people will also support with materials. It is the ENDF that is in charge where the special forces will be deployed,” said Oromiya Region spokesperson Getachew Balcha.
“If needed we will deploy more,” he told Reuters.
The Southern Nations Nationalities and Peoples’ Region also confirmed it sent soldiers.
“Close to 300 to 400 special forces were sent this week. I think they will be deployed on the western front,” said an official from the region’s communications office on condition of anonymity.
A Sidama official who did not want to be named also confirmed the region’s forces had gone to reinforce the national army.
Pictures posted on the state-run regional Amhara Media Corporation showed soldiers from Sidama posing with residents of the town of Debre Markos in Amhara.
END OF CEASEFIRE
His remarks signalled an end to the government’s unilateral ceasefire, announced as troops pulled out of Tigray’s capital Mekelle. Tigrayan leaders derided the ceasefire as a way to cover up battlefield losses and the capture of thousands of prisoners of war. read more
Tigray’s ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), has said it will continue to fight until it restores Tigray’s pre-war boundaries and the government stops blockading the region. Currently most routes into Tigray are blocked and only one convoy of food aid has been allowed in.
Tens of thousands of Eritrean refugees are also caught in the middle of the fighting in two camps taken over by Tigrayan forces this week. A refugee told Reuters that two men had already been killed and three refugees injured in the fighting.
Observers Worry Tigray Fighting is Shifting to Ethnic Conflict
NAIROBI – The conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region appears to be escalating, with reports that Tigrayan and Amhara forces are recruiting more youths to fight in the country’s north. Aid agencies are warning that a drawn-out war in Ethiopia would cost thousands more lives and worsen food insecurity.
Local media reports forces from Ethiopia’s Amhara, Oromia and Sidama region are mobilizing to attack Tigrayan forces, a few weeks after Ethiopia’s government declared a unilateral cease-fire in the country’s north.
Many now fear the fighting in Tigray may turn into an ethnic conflict.
“In the last three-four days, the fighting is over there. The TPLF wants to go back and take some of those lands which belonged to the Amhara, which were taken in the last 27 years. So it seems the Amhara are resisting and fighting back there. So things are not really that great in terms of talking about the suffering of the people there,” Obang Metho who heads the Solidarity Movement for New Ethiopia, an organization fighting for social justice told VOA. Metho says the fighting is concentrated at the Tigray-Amhara border.
The disputed territories are the Welkait, Tegede, Humera, Telemte and Raya districts. The Amhara claim the land was taken from them when the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front took control of the national government in 1991.
Amhara, the second biggest ethnic group in Ethiopia, took over some disputed areas between the two federal states in the north of the country last year.
This week, the government in Addis Ababa, led by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, threatened to end its cease-fire, blaming Tigray rebel forces for provocation.
Ethiopian political commentator Befekadu Hailu says the conflict between the Amhara and Tigray needs a political solution.
“Since Ethiopian politics is shaped by ethnicity and regions are named after ethnic groups, it sounds like the ethnic groups are fighting,” Hailu told VOA. “So very distinct, the Tigray regional state has its own militia force and Amhara regional state has its own militia. So these militias are receiving instructions from their regional governments and they are fighting because they are instructed by their political leaders. So it’s not some random and communal driven conflict but it’s a politically driven one.”
Fisseha Tekle, an Ethiopian researcher for rights group Amnesty International, says civilians are caught in the latest fighting in the north and security forces are carrying out discriminatory arrests.
“The situation remains dire and the conflict seems to escalate this week. But what follows is that since the withdrawal of the Ethiopian national defense force in parts of Tigray, there has been a wave of arrests and detention targeting Tigrayans in Addis and out of Addis. So we have spoken to family members, lawyers and friends of those people who are affected. So it shows that Tigrayans are being targeted by Ethiopian security forces,” Tekle said.
The Tigray conflict has driven some 50,000 people into neighboring Sudan and caused a hunger crisis affecting millions. The region is largely cut off from the rest of the country and aid agencies are struggling to access the area to provide needed humanitarian and medical assistance.