World Ethiopia's war in uncertain phase after Abiy's advance
Ireland says Ethiopia ordered expulsion of four Irish diplomats
Ireland’s ambassador and one other diplomat told they could stay but the others had to leave, government says.Ireland’s ambassador and one other diplomat were told earlier this week they could stay but the others had to leave, a statement said on Wednesday.
Ethiopia's military this week regained control of territory previously claimed by Tigrayan rebels, a potential validation of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's decision to join soldiers to conflict-hit areas.
Yet how the government scored its wins and what they mean for an eventual outcome in the year-old war remain points of fierce debate as fighting enters a new, uncertain phase.
Just a month ago, the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) rebel group appeared to be on the offensive, claiming to have captured Dessie and Kombolcha, towns on a key highway headed towards the capital Addis Ababa.
'New waves' of displacement reported in western Tigray: UN
The United Nations on Wednesday expressed worry over reports of large-scale displacement from western Tigray, part of the war-hit Ethiopian region where the US has previously warned of ethnic cleansing. The exodus has been so dramatic that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told Congress in March that "acts of ethnic cleansing" had occurred.The UN refugee agency UNHCR and other agencies have "received very concerning reports of new waves of displacement" from the territory which borders Sudan and Eritrea, UNHCR said in a statement.
They reportedly reached as far as Shewa Robit, around 220 kilometres (135 miles) northeast of Addis Ababa by road.
But after Abiy announced last week he would lead operations in the field, the government announced a string of victories and the rebels acknowledged making adjustments to their strategy.
State media has responded with triumphalist wall-to-wall coverage.
"The enemy is destroyed, disintegrated," the Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation quoted Abiy as saying Thursday.
There's little doubt the government can claim to have the "upper hand" in specific areas, said Awet Weldemichael, a Horn of Africa security expert at Queen's University in Canada.
Over nine million face hunger in war-torn northern Ethiopia: UN
The UN's World Food Programme (WFP) said Friday that the number of people requiring food aid in war-torn northern Ethiopia had surged to more than nine million. International alarm is mounting about the escalating conflict in Africa's second most populous country, with fighters from the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) rebel group advancing towards the capital as foreign governments urge their citizens to leave. The year-long war has leftInternational alarm is mounting about the escalating conflict in Africa's second most populous country, with fighters from the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) rebel group advancing towards the capital as foreign governments urge their citizens to leave.
"Only time will tell if these can be translated into [the] upper hand in the war," he said.
- A surprise shift -
The war in northern Ethiopia broke out in November 2020 when Abiy sent troops to topple the TPLF -- a move he said came in response to TPLF attacks on federal army camps.
Though Abiy, the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize winner, promised a quick victory, by late June the TPLF had retaken most of Tigray, and it soon launched offensives into neighbouring Afar and Amhara regions.
The rebels' march towards Addis sparked international panic, with a host of embassies urging their citizens to leave the country as soon as possible.
All the while, though, the exact nature of the TPLF advance was in dispute.
Video: A year after start of Tigray war, Ethiopia's state of emergency as rebels advance (AFP)
"I don't know whether we should call it an advance," one Western security official told AFP in mid-November.
Ethiopia: From the forehead, Abiy Ahmed promises "to bury the enemy"
© Twitter / Abiy Ahmed Screenshot of a video published November 26, 2021 on the Twitter account of Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, announcing the resumption of the locality of Kasagita. In Ethiopia, the Prime Minister was shown on television this Friday at midday, four days after announceting that he would go over the front to take command of military operations.
"There's not a huge column of tanks and armoured vehicles driving down the road towards Addis. It's more complex than that. There are foot soldiers going into the mountains, they shoot and surround certain areas" but do not seem to fully control cities and towns, the official said.
The TPLF also never explicitly said it wanted to enter Addis Ababa, instead simply declining to rule out such a move.
The latest battlefield shifts unfolded swiftly.
The government first claimed towns in Afar, near a critical highway bringing goods to Addis Ababa, then on Wednesday it declared victory in Lalibela, a UNESCO World Heritage site that fell to the TPLF in August.
On Friday state media announced that towns on the road heading north towards Dessie and Kombolcha had been "liberated".
The news could be a sign that government forces, as well as many thousands of new recruits who have enlisted in recent months, have more fight than they've gotten credit for.
"I was quite surprised by the latest counteroffensive by the government," said Mehdi Labzae, a sociologist who studies land issues and mobilisation in Ethiopia.
Blinken calls for negotiations amid Ethiopia military escalation
US Secretary of State expresses concern over escalating fighting between gov’t forces and Tigrayan fighters.The comments late on Friday came hours after Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed appeared on the front line with the national army.
"I have seen all the people who were mobilised... but the thing is I thought they were not trained and I thought they would just be destroyed."
- The path ahead -
The African Union is trying to broker a ceasefire to avert further bloodshed, though there has been little progress so far.
The TPLF insists it will have the advantage in whatever fighting is to come.
"In battle, it's known there will be adjustments and limited retreat as well as significant moves forward," TPLF military boss Tadesse Worede said in an interview that aired Friday.
"We decided that to reduce problems and vulnerabilities in some areas we had reached, to leave some of those places voluntarily."
For Labzae, such statements recall the government's announcement that it was withdrawing from most of Tigray in late June -- a claim that elided military setbacks even as TPLF fighters celebrated in the streets of the regional capital Mekele.
"They were so close [to Addis]. Why would they turn back now?" Labzae said of the TPLF.
"It means there was something worrying them or something that did not look good for them."
One possibility, said Awet of Queen's University, is that the government's superior air power has turned the tide -- at least for now.
"Drones are claimed to have played a decisive role in active combat, the full extent of which we are yet to find out," he said.
"But so far, it appears like they have helped halt Tigrayan counterattacks and advances."
Community violence in Ethiopia could "fracture" the company, warns the UN .
© AFP / Archives L E conflict in Ethiopia, if it degenerates into Community violence, could fracture society, or even trigger an exodus recalling the Chaotic evacuation scenes at Kabul Airport in August, AFP told the United Nations Head of Humanitarian Aid.