The reports come from Eritrean and Tigrayan sources.
The first report came from the Eritrean opposition. It suggested that at least four Eritrean divisions had advanced from the strategic Ethiopian town of Humera, towards the Amharan town of Gondar.
The Eritrean divisions are said to include the 16th, 18th, 31st and 57th. Helicopters are reported to have been used in the deployment.
Humera is the gateway between Sudan, Eritrea and Ethiopia, standing at the tripoint where the borders meet. It was the scene of heavy fighting and ethnic massacres at the start of the Tigray war in November 2020.
Tigrayan sources confirm that the Tigray Defence Forces are now confronting Eritrean troops near Dabat – which has seen much fighting in recent weeks.
These reports need to be confirmed, but they suggest a major development in the Tigray war.
When the war began on 4 November 2020 the Eritrean army advanced into Ethiopia taking large areas of northern Tigray. The Eritreans also took western Tigray, cutting access to Sudan. This left Tigray reliant on supply lines that run through Amhara or the Afar region. It gave Prime Minister Abiy a stranglehold over Tigray, since he controlled their access to food and other supplies.
When the Tigrayans fought back in June 2021, re-capturing their capital, Mekelle, the Eritreans army retreated northwards. Ethiopian forces and their Amhara allies retreated southwards.
As they did so the Ethiopians blew up bridges on the Tekeze river – bridges the Tigrayans have worked hard to repair. Some of these routes are now open and can be used by the UN to bring badly needed aid into Tigray.
But the level of aid reaching Tigray is nowhere near what the region requires to keep feeding its people.
The Ethiopian military and bureaucratic problems have meant that only a fraction of the aid that Tigray needs has reached the region.
As the United Nations OCHA warned on 3 September: “Food stocks ran out on 20 August. A minimum of 100 trucks of food, non-food items and fuel are required daily to sustain an adequate response. Since 12 July, only 335 trucks have entered Tigray – about 9% of the required 3,900 trucks.”
Facing the starvation of their people, the Tigrayans advanced southwards and eastwards, saying their aim is to try to force the Ethiopians into negotiations.
This is from a statement released by Tigrayans on 6 September:
“The TDF’s advance into the Afar and Amhara regions is not intended to annex territories or bring about regime change but to force the regime to sit down for negotiation by denying it the opportunity to regroup and invade Tigray again. It is this point that Meaza alluded to in the short time given to her when she said “the TDF is in the Amhara and Afar regions to find a political solution”. Not only does it make perfect sense, but it also couldn’t have been stated in a better way.”
If the Eritrean deployment from Humera to the front near Gondar is confirmed it would suggest that Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed is not confident that he can hold the TDF forces on his own and has had to turn to President Isaias Afwerki to bring in Eritrean reinforcements to protect the area around Gondar.
But if Tigray cannot force Prime Minister Abiy to open serious negotiations, or open a route to Sudan the fate of the people of Tigray could be grim indeed. Reports of starvation are already beginning to emerge: they are likely to increase in the coming weeks.
“Alarming new data has today confirmed the magnitude of the hunger emergency gripping Tigray,” David Beasley, the executive director of the World Food Program, the anti-hunger agency of the United Nations, said in a statement.