October 09, 2021
Soldiers of Tigray Defence Force (TDF) in Mekele, Tigray region, Ethiopia. Photographer: Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP/Getty Images
By Simon Marks | Bloomberg
Ethiopia has launched a major offensive against rebel forces from the Tigray region, carrying out air strikes in its latest bid to gain the upper hand in an almost yearlong civil war.
The move from the government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed comes days after he was inaugurated for a new five-year term as leader of Africa’s second-most populous country, and amid threats that the U.S. may impose sanctions against individuals and entities responsible for the violence.
Getachew Reda, a senior member of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, said air strikes and artillery bombardment had struck parts of the northern Amhara region and another area that straddles the border with Tigray in the past two days. The number of casualties, if any, was unclear.
In June, Liberation Front forces recaptured their capital Mekelle from Ethiopian troops and allied fighters from Eritrea.
“At this stage it is mostly air, drone and artillery bombardment,” Getachew said via text message. He added that thousands of pro-government combatants had been spotted near the towns of Hara, Wergesa and Wegel Tena close to the Tigray border in Ethiopia’s northern Amhara region.
“We will maintain our defensive positions. We are confident we will thwart the offensive on all fronts,” he said, adding that there was “little military logic to the choice of targets” and that in one case a village under government control had received friendly fire.
Getachew’s comments on the state of the combat couldn’t be independently verified. Billene Seyoum, a spokeswoman for Abiy, didn’t respond to questions.
Brink of Famine
The latest military build-up is taking place in the areas where Abiy’s forces were present in the early days of the conflict. For months, forces loyal to Abiy and soldiers from Eritrea were accused of carrying out grievous crimes including rape and the massacre of civilians.
The conflict began in November when Abiy ordered an incursion in retaliation for an attack on an army base. The United Nations has warned that more than 400,000 people in the region are on the brink of famine.
The Biden administration this week called a CNN report that Ethiopian Airlines Group used a commercial airline to ferry arms to Eritrea a grave allegation, and said Ethiopia could be hit with sanctions if conflict in the Tigray region persists. The carrier denied it had done so.
Earlier this month, Ethiopia ordered seven senior UN staff members to leave the country for allegedly meddling in its internal affairs, a move condemned by UN and U.S. officials.
(Updates third paragraph with details on location of air strikes)