An air and ground offensive intensifies in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region, according to the Tigrayan forces, as the Ethiopian government presses for a new offensive.
The Tigray People’s Liberation Front says the fighting began with air strikes by the federal government last week. However, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s office did not acknowledge the attack. The office issued a statement saying that the government “has the responsibility to protect its citizens across the country from any terrorist acts.”
Government officials did not respond to DW’s requests for further comment.
The attack reportedly began just days after Abiy was sworn in for a new five-year term. He is facing mounting pressure from the international community to resolve the Tigray crisis quickly, as the fighting has raised fears that the conflict could further destabilize the Horn of Africa nation and plunge the region into the deepest famine.
A tank damaged during the fighting between Ethiopian federal forces and Tigray forces
Fighting on all fronts
With the area closed to journalists and most telephone communications disrupted, attempts to independently verify the situation and confirm the number of casualties have proven difficult.
On Wednesday, Haile Mariam Ambay, head of the North Walo District Administration in Amhara Governorate, can be reached.
“The government forces are continuing their offensive to regain control of the occupied territories,” he told DW. “You brought a lot of strength to the fight… For now, the attack on all fronts has begun, we will provide more details soon.”
The special forces of the Ethiopian army and militias are fighting in the Afar region
According to Reuters, TPLF spokesman Getachew Reda denied the allegations that the rebels used heavy weapons against civilians, but confirmed the occurrence of new hostilities in the Afar region.
“The enemy forces are collapsing and in chaos in parts of Afar,” he said.
The Tigray Liberation Front pushed into the neighboring regions of Afar and Amhara in July, saying its aim was to prevent government forces from regrouping and to break what it called a humanitarian siege on Tigray.
The government said last month that it had “incurred significant losses” and was “expelled” from Afar, while the Tigray People’s Liberation Front said it had withdrawn its forces from the area.
Afar currently hosts the only land route through which humanitarian aid can enter Tigray.
“We do not target civilians, the alleged artillery attack is something else,” he added [fictitious] Reda said that the current military objective of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front is to “repel the attack and go as far as possible to break the siege on the people of Tigray”.
He said the number of casualties was “staggering”.
The worsening humanitarian crisis
Humanitarian sources have also reported indications of a government offensive that could mark a new phase in the nearly year-long Tigray War.
Jahas Muhammad, head of the Afar Human Rights Organization, told DW how one of the recent attacks occurred.
“[It] Muhammad said: “It happened in two villages. The first was in a brigade, and it is located in the border area between Waldiya in the Amhara region and Hara in Afar. In the past two days, six people were killed and more than 20 were wounded.”
“We said that the war continues in the Afar region,” Mohammed said. “According to their ratified constitution, crossing territorial boundaries means violating the constitution. But they commit crime. They don’t care about civilians.”
Prime Minister Abiy was recently sworn in for a second five-year term
Observers are closely watching Abiy’s new government for indications of a different approach to the conflict, as the government faces mounting international condemnation for its handling of the war and the recent expulsion of seven top United Nations officials.
The prime minister’s office, which blames the TPLF for starting the war, said that some conciliatory measures, such as declassifying the TPLF as a terrorist group, can only take place after the formation of the new government.
Western countries demand a cease-fire
Fighting broke out in November 2020 in the Tigray region after Abiy sent troops to oust the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, which had dominated national politics before he took office in 2018.
Abiy, the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, said this was in response to the TPLF attacks on federal army camps.
Government forces quickly drove the TPLF out of Tigray’s cities and towns, but the rebels recaptured most of the area, including its capital, Mikkeli, by late June.
The war has strained relations between Ethiopia and Western powers, including the United States, a long-standing important ally.
Government soldiers in the Afar region: Officials have not yet confirmed reports of a new attack
A US State Department spokesman told AFP this week that Washington was “considering the full range of tools available to us to address the deepening crisis in northern Ethiopia.”
These measures include: “economic sanctions aimed at holding accountable those responsible for or accomplices to prolonging the conflict, obstructing humanitarian access or preventing a ceasefire, while mitigating unintended effects on the people of Ethiopia and the wider region.”
US World Trade Representative Catherine Taye said Thursday that Washington will “soon” make a decision on Ethiopia’s status under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), which currently gives it duty-free access to the United States.
“Reports that come to us through official channels and civil society are not encouraging,” she said. “What is happening in Ethiopia is a humanitarian crisis.”
The United States, the European Union, France, Germany and the United Kingdom on Tuesday called on all parties to “immediately end the violations and enter into negotiations for a ceasefire.”
Alemnew Mekonnen and Mantegaftot Sileshi contributed to this report.