Understanding complex Ethiopia's conflict as ENDF prepares assault on TDF

Members of Amhara region fighters head off to face the Tigray People's Liberation Front [File: Tiksa Negeri/Reuters]

NAIROBI, Kenya - For decades, Ethiopia was under a dictatorial regime mostly explaining the reasons why the conflict was rare, and even in its presence, it was usually on small scale compared to what the world is currently witnessing.

Since Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed took over in 2018, the country at first experienced genuine democratic gains, but which have since been watered down but ethnic cleansing, arbitrary detentions, and political assassinations as in the case of musician Hachalu Hundeesa.

For the better part of 2019, clashes erupted between ethnic Oromo where PM Abiy Ahmed hails from, and the Amhara people, who control most parts of the capital, Addis Ababa. Thousands of youths especially those in universities were killed.

So dire was the situation that apparently, changed the heart of Ahmed, the Nobel Peace Prize winner of 2019, making him order for arrests of people in his Oromia backyard. Jawar Mohamed, the media entrepreneur is perhaps one of the high-profile politicians to be arrested.

With Ahmed now struggling to stamp authority in the Horn of Africa nation, the elections that were initially scheduled in 2020, may have further triggered differences in the country. The National Elections Board of Ethiopia [NEBE] postponed the polls to this year, June.

However, the move didn't go down well with Tigray Defense Forces [TDF] which for a long time controlled the Tigray region even in the previous regimes. The faction went ahead to conduct elections contrary to the wish of Addis Ababa.

ENDF clashes with TDF

The attack by TDF on Northern Command triggered the war, leading to a deadly operation that lasted for almost eight months from November 2020. In the conflict, Ethiopian National Defense Forces [ENDF] got reinforcement from Amhara regional forces and Eritrea troops.

Early this month, TDF declared victory against ENDF but Addis Ababa maintained the withdrawal from several parts of Tigray was informed by pressure from the international community to allow humanitarian access to Tigray besides high costs of the operation.

But a determined TDF is closing in even in the territories of Amhara and Afar, a strategy meant to suffocate Addis Ababa in terms of supplies from Djibouti. Ethiopia has seemingly suspended ceasefire, with analysts still warning that ENDF will still lose to TDF.

The clashes between ENDF and TDF could be ignited in the coming weeks after several youths were recruited from different parts of the country for special training. They are set to be deployed to the Tigray region to face the unrelenting TDF.

On Tuesday, thousands of residents of Addis Ababa, patriots, veterans, and high-level government officials to bid fare well to recruits drawn from all sub-cities of the capital who are joining the national army.

Addressing the gatherings, Deputy Mayor of Addis Ababa, Adanech Abiebie appreciated the youth for quickly responding to the call from the government to join the struggle underway to defend the sovereignty of the nation.

She further urged residents of Addis Ababa who are origin to Tigray region not to be deluded by the propaganda of the TPLF Junta and contribute their share in safeguarding the people of Tigray from the aggression of the terrorist group.

Representatives of patriots and veterans called upon the recruits to draw inspiration from the gallantry and bravery of forefathers and foremothers who feel proud to gallantly against the traitors conspiring to dismantle the nation.

This is an indication that the federal army will still face TDF, further making the Tigray crisis unpredictable. On its part, TDF has warned of any penetration, vowing to take stiff actions against those who may "trespass our territory".

TDF conflict with Amhara

Even with the federal army's determination to silence TDF, the Tigray fighters have been pursuing Amhara regional forces. The Amhara regional forces are accused of helping ENDF along with Eritrean troops to reign on TDF in Tigray early this year, committing genocide in the process.

Ethiopia's Amhara state on Sunday called on "all young people" to take up arms against Tigrayan fighters who are battling the federal government military and forces from all of Ethiopia's other nine regions.

The call for mass mobilization against TDF fighters - whom Amhara's military said were now attacking the state - expands the eight-month-old war and instability in the Horn of Africa country.

"I call on all young people, militia, non-militia in the region, armed with any government weapon, armed with personal weapons, to join the anti-TPLF war mission from tomorrow," Agegnehu Teshager, president of Amhara regional government was quoted as saying by the region's state media.

Calls to TPLF spokesman Getachew Reda, for a comment, were not answered.

This week, the Tigrayans pushed their offensive to Afar, their neighboring state to the east, where they said they planned to target troops from the Amhara region fighting alongside the federal military in the area.

Afar is a strategic region for landlocked Ethiopia because the main road and railway linking the capital, Addis Ababa, with the seaport of Djibouti runs through it. TDF is keen to cut the rail and road links to Djibouti, further blocking imports and exports from Ethiopia.

On Saturday, Amhara's special forces commander, Brigadier General Tefera Mamo, was quoted by the region's state media as saying the war had expanded to the state.

"The terrorist group has started a war in the Amhara and Afar regions and is also harassing Ethiopians," Tefera said, referring to TDF. "Amhara Special Forces are fighting in coordination with other security forces."

Thousands of people have died in the fighting, around 2 million have been displaced and more than 5 million rely on emergency food aid. The government had temporarily blocked emergency teams from accessing Tigray according to TDF officials in Mekelle.

Afar troubles with Somali region

As the TDF pushes to Afar territory, another conflict is emerging between the region and the neighboring Somali. Both regions have been sympathetic to the current administration of Abiy Ahmed.

On Tuesday, fighting erupts in GarbaIssa town, Sitti Zone of Somali region between pastoralists and militias from Afar. Since last week, there have been tensions between the two regions according to reports.

Before the chaos on Tuesday, multiple sources had hinted to Garowe Online that scores of civilians were killed in GarbaIssa town Western Sitti zone of Somali Region of Ethiopia by heavy armed special police forces of Afar Regional State.

A minimum of hundreds of people had been killed another two thousand have been displaced. In the last three years, the people in the area faced similar period massacres. It's not clear why the Afar troops are attacking local Somali people in Ethiopia but ethnic-based clashes are now becoming common in Ethiopia.

This time, however, it is more devastating due to the TDF’s activities in the neighboring region of Afar, whereby the Prosperity Party-led government is fearing the local Somali civilians may support them. The Somali civilians are said to be concerned with ENDF's attacks against TDF.

Already, TDF has made it clear that it will pursue Amhara regional forces and the ENDF troops who are accused of perpetrating a massacre in Tigray. Authorities in Addis Ababa also issued statements signaling the end of the ceasefire in Tigray, where TDF has since recaptured many towns.


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