TDF new strategy to cripple Ethiopia's troops in war-torn Tigray

A fighter loyal to the Tigray People's Liberation Front mans a guard post on the outskirts of the town of Hawzen, then-controlled by the group, in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia, on Friday, May 7, 2021. The battle for Hawzen is part of a larger war in Tigray between the Ethiopian government and the Tigrayan rebels that has led to massacres, gang rapes and the flight of more than 2 million of the region’s 6 million people. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)

NAIROBI, Kenya - The Tigray defense forces [TDF] devised a new strategy to cripple the Ethiopian administration, it has now emerged, just a week after Addis Ababa seemingly abandoned the ceasefire which it had declared, fueling tensions in Ethiopia in the latest development.

In a tough-worded speech last week, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed accused Tigray Defense Forces [TDF] of failing to adhere to the principles of the unilateral ceasefire, adding that "we shall now protect our people from terrorists".

But the unbowed TDF had initially given a host of conditions for a ceasefire, calling for unconditional withdrawal of Eritrea troops and Amhara regional forces which it accuses of "committing genocide" in Tigray. The TDF had captured Mekelle, the regional administrative capital of Tigray.

Throughout this period, TDF announced victory over Ethiopia's troops but Addis Ababa maintained the army had withdrawn to allow "humanitarian teams to access Tigray without difficulty". The war between separatists TDF and ENDF has left thousands dead and millions displaced in Tigray.

However, to further curtail the national army, TDF has reportedly devised a new strategy, which will act as reprisal over Ethiopia's alleged intimidation of humanitarian assistance teams moving from south to Tigray. The ENDF is accused of erecting barriers thus making it difficult for humanitarian teams to access Tigray.

In the new strategy, multiple sources confirmed, TDF will now take control of the road and a railway link to Djibouti, thus cutting supplies of goods to Addis Ababa. Ethiopia, being landlocked, entirely depends on the Port of Djibouti for imports and exports.

TDF insists "If Ethiopia wants to choke us, we choke Ethiopia". The Tigray fighters who accuse Abiy Ahmed of seclusion, are also determined to bring Afar region's rebels on board to strengthen its force which is now regarded as "strong and dangerous".

Should the plan of TDF succeed, Ethiopia might now run short of fuel given the Port of Djibouti will be blocked from the north by Tigray forces. Ethiopia is yet to start using the Port of Berbera in Somaliland, which would have been an option.

Rashid Abdi, a security analyst on the Horn of Africa matters, believes that the TDF was the main strength of Ethiopia National Defense Forces [ENDF] before it broke away. The ENDF, he argues, is significantly weakened.

"There is no ENDF capable of fighting anymore. The Ethiopian army has collapsed, will take 10 years to rebuild it to fighting shape," he says. "[This] explains why Abiy had to cobble together the army of the wretched drawn from ethnic states to fight in Tigray.What a depressing state of affairs."

The TDF in Ethiopia's war-hit Tigray have carried out operations against pro-government troops in the neighboring Afar region, a spokesman said Sunday, opening a new front in the widening eight-month conflict.

The "very limited action" targeted special forces and militia fighters from the Oromia region, Ethiopia's largest, who were massing along the Tigray-Afar border, the rebel spokesman, Getachew Reda, told AFP.

"We took those actions to ensure those forces are sent back to Oromia, and we have managed to do that," Getachew said, adding that there were some casualties but he could not provide figures. The penetration in Afar seems to be one of the strategies to realize the eventual take over of railway and road.

Some reports also indicate TDF intercepted a convoy full of militias from Oromia in Afar. There was barely a fight. Hundreds of Oromo combatants simply surrendered. "Ethnic militias are not fools. They have no interest in waging war on Tigray. It is not their fight," adds Rashid Abdi.

A convoy bearing food for Ethiopia's war-hit Tigray came under attack at the weekend, the United Nations said Monday, dealing a further blow to aid distribution in a region threatened with famine.

The 10-vehicle World Food Programme convoy was attacked on Sunday about 115 kilometers [70 miles] from the town of Semera "while attempting to move essential humanitarian cargo into Tigray region", WFP said in a statement.

The agency said it was working with local officials to determine who was behind the incident.

"WFP has suspended movement of all convoys from Semera until the security of the area can be assured and the drivers can proceed safely." Semera is the capital of the Afar region, which borders Tigray to the east.

The route via Semera into Tigray had become critical for aid delivery in recent weeks after two key bridges along other routes were destroyed in late June.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent troops into Tigray last November to detain and disarm leaders of the region's then-ruling party, the TDF. He said the move was in response to TDF attacks on federal army camps.

The 2019 Nobel Peace laureate declared victory in late November after government forces took the Tigray capital Mekele, but TDF leaders remained on the run and fighting continued.


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