US rules out military action to end Tigray war; considers aid cuts

“If we do not see progress in these domains, I think the administration made clear that we will not be left with much of a choice,” said Samantha Powers

Source: Washington Post

Samantha Power has long championed humanitarian intervention. Ethiopia’s crisis is putting her to the test.

USAID Administrator Samantha Power speaks during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington on July 14. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

By  Max Bearak and John Hudson Yesterday at 1:59 p.m. EDT

NAIROBI — On the day Samantha Power landed in Ethiopia this week, its civil war — now escalating and spreading beyond the northern region of Tigray — entered its 10th month.

Amid allegations that Ethiopian troops and their allies have committed war crimes and ethnic cleansing and have driven parts of Tigray into famine, the United States has already withheld security assistance and effectively banned travel for top officials.

But Power, who is in charge of the U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID, holds the biggest American lever of influence over Addis Ababa: more than $1 billion in annual aid ranging from health and education support to food and emergency humanitarian response, which makes the United States the largest aid donor to Ethiopia.

It’s a moment seemingly made for Power, the former U.N. ambassador under President Barack Obama who came to prominence in 2002 with her book “A Problem From Hell,” which excoriated American inaction during mass killings in Rwanda and the Balkans in the 1990s, Europe during World War II and the Ottoman Empire during World War I.

“Samantha Power is a world-renowned voice of conscience and moral clarity — challenging and rallying the international community to stand up for the dignity and humanity of all people,” President Biden said in a statement when he appointed her.

Her work inspired a generation of humanitarian activists and helped popularize the notion that Washington bore a unique responsibility to protect the world’s most vulnerable populations, including with military force if necessary.

Power’s one-day trip Wednesday to Ethiopia, which didn’t include a meeting with Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, was a test of whether she can restore faith in America’s role in preventing mass atrocities beyond its borders. So far, the U.S. measures curtailing security assistance and sanctioning officials have had little effect beyond turning Ethiopian sentiment against Washington.

“The United States has been working in Ethiopia for 60 years. USAID has spent a billion dollars in the last year in this country, including several hundred million dollars in development assistance. We’re delivering tomorrow 1.4 million vaccines,” Power said in a phone interview from the airport in Addis Ababa as she wrapped up her visit.

“There is so much we want to do together, but this is an own-goal,” she added, referring to the government’s increasingly antagonistic attitude to humanitarian aid groups, journalists and allies in the West.

Unable to control Tigray, Ethiopia isolates region already beset by famine and war

Ethiopia’s government accuses those allies of failing to back its military offensive against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, a group the government has designated as terrorists but whom the West dealt with over three decades when the TPLF controlled the country before Abiy’s rise.

Members of the military gather during a ceremony for recruits in Addis Ababa on July 27. (Amanuel Sileshi/AFP/Getty Images)

Top Ethiopian officials have also accused some international aid groups of not just siding with the TPLF but also helping smuggle arms to it, and they have alleged that Western governments and media have overplayed atrocities linked to Ethiopian government forces while overlooking those allegedly committed by the TPLF.

Addis Ababa has responded defensively to allegations that it has committed crimes against civilians and hindered aid. The government puts nearly all the blame on the TPLF.

Inside the Biden administration, the option of using military force to stop the bloodshed in Tigray is seen as a non-starter. But withdrawing substantial amounts of aid is also seen as a poor option, because it is unlikely to change the Ethiopian government’s war strategy and instead deepen what is already one of the world’s most dire humanitarian crises.

Pressed on how and when punitive measures on aid might come into play, Power said she was still in wait-and-see mode. As for what she achieved at her meetings in Addis Ababa, she said she only got more commitments.

“It’s not the kind of track record that would give one confidence yet that those commitments are imminently to be met,” she said. Her requests were in line with the State Department’s recent public statements: that humanitarian aid be unhindered in delivery and that government-aligned troops from neighboring Eritrea as well as militias from the country’s Amhara region withdraw beyond Tigray’s prewar borders.The State Department has also called on Tigrayan forces to withdraw from the Amhara and Afar regions, where they have recently gone on the offensive, displacing around a quarter of a million civilians.

“If we do not see progress in these domains, I think the administration made clear that we will not be left with much of a choice,” she said. The European Union has already withdrawn most of its financial support for aid programs in Ethiopia.

The outlook in Ethiopia is decidedly grim. The government initially pushed the TPLF out of Tigray’s main towns, but the TPLF retook most of the region last month in an offensive that analysts say resulted in a large portion of the Ethiopian army being killed or captured.

The TPLF has since moved into neighboring regions with the stated objective of obliterating what’s left of the government and its allies’ military capacity. On Thursday, Reuters reported that the TPLF had taken control of Lalibela, a sizable town within the Amhara region and home to Ethiopia’s famed 12th-century rock-hewed churches.

The Ethiopian government has in turn sought to recruit widely from regional militias, drawing in fighters from parts of the country previously uninvolved in the conflict.

Asked at a news conference in Addis Ababa about Abiy’s recent use of words like “weeds,” “cancer” and “disease” to refer to the TPLF, Power cautioned that “there are many, many people out there who hear rhetoric, hateful rhetoric or dehumanizing rhetoric and take measures into their own hands

Displaced people protect themselves from the rain at a camp in the town of Azezo, Ethiopia, on July 12. The camp hosts Ethiopians as well as Eritrean refugees uprooted by the ongoing war in the Tigray region. (Eduardo Soteras/AFP/Getty Images)

Power’s past advocacy for humanitarian intervention, including with U.S. military force, has fallen out of favor in recent years as public confidence in Washington’s ability to reshape distant lands wanes. U.S. forces will conclude a 20-year occupation in Afghanistan in September, and the military will formally end combat operations in Iraq by the end of the year, Biden said last week. The two missions have cost thousands of livestrillions of dollars and fallen far short of U.S. ambitions to bring about stability, democracy or prosperity. The protracted chaos and bloodshed in Libya following the ouster of Moammar Gaddafi in a NATO-led military operation in 2011 also dampened the appeal of humanitarian interventions.

Defenders of the administration say its lack of bold action in confronting the Ethiopian crisis does not indicate a lack of concern.

“There is a false narrative that the Biden administration does not care about mass atrocities, fueled by its decision to risk mass violence in Afghanistan,” said Richard Gowan, a U.N. analyst at the International Crisis Group. “But if you look at Washington’s approach to Ethiopia in particular, you see that the new administration does still have strong humanitarian instincts.”

Power, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield and the U.S. special envoy for the Horn of Africa, Jeffrey Feltman, “have all thrown themselves into efforts to halt the Tigrayan war, which hardly seemed to register with the outgoing Trump team,” Gowan said.

Thomas-Greenfield took to Twitter on Wednesday to denounce the Ethiopian government’s decision this week to revoke the operating licenses of Doctors Without Borders and the Norwegian Refugee Council, two humanitarian organizations known for their work in war zones.

“This suspension is unacceptable. I know the work of MSF and NRC well, and they are internationally respected,” she wrote, using the French abbreviation for Doctors Without Borders. “Ethiopia must reconsider this decision.”

At least a dozen aid workers have been killed since November, when Abiy sent troops to Tigray to fight the TPLF after the group allegedly staged an attack on a military base.

The United Nations says the war has left 400,000 people facing famine, while UNICEF estimated last week that more than 100,000 children in Tigray could suffer from life-threatening acute malnutrition in the next 12 months — 10 times the annual average.

Meanwhile, “supplies are just running out,” Power said.

Hudson reported from Washington.

3 comments

  1. The UN, EU, US are giving a blind eye to the situation in Tigray, ethnic-profiling of Tigrayans, purging of Tigrayan civil servants from their positions, arresting Tigrayans in every part of Ethiopia because of their ethnicity, Extra-judicial killings of Tigrayans and now asking TDF to withdraw from the Afar and Amhara region and all these show that the above power houses are useless and irresponsible.

    ACTION speaks louder than WORDS and you’ve been talking with no action for the last nine months or so while the Tigray population is suffering from luck of basic necessities and isolation from the rest of the world.

    The world is not fair at all. Leave the TDF alone while the Amhara militia, Fano and the animals of Isaias’s are in Tigray committing atrocities and genocide.

    Tigray will prevail

    A proud Tigraway

    Tegaru, they talk less
    They do a lot
    Their next action
    They know how to plot
    Abiy junta talks a lot
    Does little
    It’s been confirmed
    He is an imbecile

    Abiy has said a lot
    About Tegaru
    He has tried his best
    To penetrate through
    When I said to penetrate
    Through
    I mean through the hearts
    And minds of Tegaru

    He knows nothing about
    The people of Tigray
    Out of desperation Saying
    nice things out of outcry
    He has spoken in Tigrigna
    To win the support of Tegaru
    Manipulation is his technique
    He thought we’re like Amharu

    We, the Tegaru know
    What is good & bad for us
    We have a purpose, goal
    What to accomplish in victorious
    Abiy knows why Tegaru
    Oppose him with iron-fist
    They had a good experience
    From Derg fascist

    Abiy, you should give up
    On oppressing Tegaru
    I can assure one thing,
    With victory, they’ll pass it through
    I’m so proud and glad
    To be Tigraway
    Abiy, I can tell you
    In details and explain to you why

    Tigraway stands for his/ her
    Right and self-determination
    That’s Right, I’m speaking to you
    On behalf of the entire nation
    Don’t get confused when
    I said the entire nation
    The nation of Tigray
    With a clear vision

    I stand abreast with
    Tigray adey
    I’m not here to upset
    The dictator Abiy

    I’m here to tell you
    How proud I am
    So you can start thinking
    And respecting Tegaru all of them

    Abiy, I won’t beg you to
    stop pointing your finger on Tigray
    That’s who you are in fabricating
    Fake news to cover your story
    A truth will be revealed
    Sooner or later
    You’ve confessed yourself
    On TV you’re a murderer

    You’ve declared a war
    On innocent Tigrians
    Purging civil servants, militaries
    From their position without evidence
    Evidence of spying or working
    For the regional gov of Tigray
    It’s been proven that you waged an
    All out war because of their ethnicity

    One thing for sure, Victory to
    Tegaru is Imminent
    It’ll come in decisive way,
    Bitter and short
    Abiy, you’ll see it
    In your own eyes
    If you are still alive
    The victory of Tegaru to witness
    Tigray will prevail
    In victorious
    From junta Abiy Ahmed
    A government of disastrous.

    Begging, and fabricating stories
    Are Your expertise
    Talking sweet, to convince
    While you’re in disguise.
    A cloned of Derg but
    With an evil spirit
    You’ve proven yourself
    For power, you’re so desperate
    Talking everyday about
    Prosperity party
    All your agendas are
    To fulfil, your mother’s prophecy

    Abiy, Trying to deceive the people
    Of Tigray
    With an empty promises
    Ready to destroy
    You change your mind
    In a matter of days
    The real Abiy Ahmed
    When you’re in disguise
    However, Tegarus are
    Smarter than you are
    They already know you,
    To them, you’re a danger

    We know the Tegaru how
    To administer ourselves
    We don’t want Abiy a delusional
    King to govern Tigriyans

    We have raised you Abiy to be
    Where you’re right now
    You become an evil man
    And let the Tigryans down
    We’ve showed you the way
    How to be a trusted citizen
    You,ve found a friend called
    Issayas taught you how to be a poison

    Worked under the umbrella
    Of Tegaru as an honest person Abiy
    You’ve deceived Tigryans while
    You were secretly working for an enemy
    When I say an enemy, an enemy
    Of all Tigryans
    You’ve guessed it, a dead man
    Walking a dictator Issayas
    The combination of the
    Two dictators
    Ethiopia and Eritrea become
    A zone of disastrous

    Abiy, you’ll be brought
    To justice with multiple of crimes
    Treason, massacre, genocide, rape
    List them yourself you know
    What your wrongdoings
    Justice will be served in
    A swift action
    We all, the Tegaru are
    For a clear mission
    A mission to bring you
    And your allays to justice.

    Believe me, we,
    The Tegaru will prevail
    Abiy, either you’ll be
    In prison or exile
    Your partner Issayas
    Will be six feet under
    You’ll mourn his death and
    Curse the day you were together

    The blood of innocent
    Civilian Tegaru
    In your judgement day
    It will come through
    To witness your suffering
    Hear your confession
    Then, a chapter will be closed
    The Tegaru victory and mission.

    I stand with Tigray
    All the way
    I’m a proud Tigraway

    Tigray will prevail
    Tigray will prosper

    GRHNB

  2. This is really lacks neutrality from the begining. I didn’t see the atrocities committed by the terrorist group TPLF while blaming Abiy many time.

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