The evolution of the conflict between the federal forces of the ENDF – and their allied regional militias – against the Tigrinya forces of the TDF and the Oromo forces of the OLA has been characterized by important developments in the Amhara region, where most of the ongoing fighting is reported.
The spokesman of the ruling party of Tigray, Getachew Reda, announced on November 1 the conquest of two important cities in the Amhara region, Dessiè and Kombolcha, both located along the road axis of the A2 highway. The conquest of these two cities, if confirmed, would also imply the control of the intersection of the regional highways B21 and B11, which longitudinally connect the Amhara region and the Afar region, putting at real risk also the railway line that connects Ethiopia to Djibouti. Opening to the possibility of a conquest of the capital.
The TDF goes on the offensive
The counter-offensive of the Tigrinya Army (TDF) started in the last week of October, after the substantial failure of the offensive launched in the previous days by the federal army and the regional military units of the state of Amhara.
On October 24, the TDF forces conquered the town of Kutaber, placing themselves in direct proximity of the most important city of Dessiè, but had to retreat the following day, leaving control of the town to the federal and Amhara forces.
In an attempt to stop what by then appeared to be a Tigrayan advance towards the south, the air force of the federal army conducted repeated bombing raids on some cities in northern Tigray on October 24, and in particular on Adua and Mai Tsebri, hitting warehouses and industrial plants. New bombardments have instead hit the capital of Tigray, Macallè, on November 26, where there were reports of victims among the civilian population.
Nevertheless, the offensive of the TDF forces continued in a large part of the southern Wollo area, through a military push along the A2 highway which first reached the town of Hayk on October 25, while further west Kutaber was recaptured.
On October 28 the TDF forces then launched the final offensive towards the city of Dessiè, converging the thrust of the military attack through the two roads that intersect it from the northeast and northwest, near the area where the local university is located.
On the same day federal forces intensified air strikes against the capital of Tigray, hitting numerous targets including – according to local TPLF sources – a school.
After two days of furious fighting, on October 30 the Tigrayan forces of the TDF announced their entry into both the city of Dessiè and the town of Kombolcha, about 10 km east of Dessiè, along the route of the A2 highway and a nerve center for land transport in the direction of the Afar region.
There followed two more intense days of fighting, with repeated counterattacks launched by the federal forces of the ENDF, which were however ineffective. On October 31, in fact, the city of Kombolcha finally fell under the control of the Tigrinya forces, which at the same time also occupied the local airport and an important fuel depot. The following day Dessiè was conquered, while the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) – an ally of the Tigrinya TDF – unexpectedly conquered the town of Kemise, about 50 km south of Dessiè along the A2 highway linking the capital.
The conquest of Kemise by OLA militias may have isolated numerous units of the federal army and Amhara forces, locking them in a pocket that is difficult to defend.
The news has raised serious alarm at the federal and local government level in Amhara state. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed issued a communiqué calling on the youth of Ethiopia to mobilize in general – a message spread via social media and promptly censored by both Facebook and Twitter – while the regional government of Amhara declared a state of emergency on October 31 and imposed a statewide curfew, ordering the confiscation of private vehicles and general mobilization.
On November 1, the spokesman of the Tigray government party, Getachew Reda, officially announced the conquest of Dessiè and Kombolcha, adding the news of the joining on the ground of his militias with those of the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA), as well as the intention to march towards the capital Addis Ababa.
The state of emergency
With the worsening of the military situation in northern Ethiopia, the federal government of Addis Ababa imposed on November 2 a state of emergency throughout the country for a period of six months, asking citizens to report the possession of firearms and to place themselves at the disposal of the authorities for the defense of the capital.
The federal government has also ordered the country’s radio and television stations to immediately cease broadcasting information from abroad, while numerous journalistic licenses have been suspended and – according to Voice of America (VOA) – at least one foreign correspondent expelled from the country.
The offensive of Tigrinya and OLA forces in the southern Wollo area has meanwhile evolved with the expansion of territorial control south of Dessiè and Kombolcha. TDF forces pushed south along the course of the B21 regional road as far as the village of Tebasit, and from there continued south on rural roads until the conquest of the village of Were Ilu, in a maneuver that seems to be converging west towards the A3 highway just behind the capital.
TDF forces rejoined OLA forces in the area of Kemise, south of Kombolcha, increasing their control of the A2 highway up to the village of Chirete, and then further east along the border with the Afar regional state, where TDF and OLA forces seem to have full control of the B11 regional road up to the village of Kasa Gita, well beyond the border line. In the same area, the TDF and the OLA claim to have taken full control of the Bati area, along the entire border line with the Afar regional state.
What worries the federal government is the conquest on November 1 by OLA forces of the village of Senbete, about 40 km south of the last outpost conquered by TDF forces. It appears to be an operation carried out by OLA forces against the federal forces of the ENDF en route to the south after the defeat of Dessiè.
The consolidation of these conquests, in fact, risks trapping a large number of ENDF soldiers and Amhara militias within pockets that are difficult to defend, especially without supplies, leading to an unprecedented debacle in the conduct of the conflict.
In this way, the forces of the TDF and the OLA are now about 250 kilometers northeast of the capital, moving in an apparent pincer movement oriented to completely isolate the capital on the eastern side, cutting off any connection with the Afar region and at the same time – should the TDF troops reach the A3 highway north of Addis Ababa – isolating the Amhara region and the junction towards the cities of Bahar Dar and Gondar.
Upon news of the proclamation of the state of emergency, the U.S. State Department authorized the departure of non-essential personnel from its embassy in Addis Ababa and family members of diplomats, while Russia’s foreign ministry officially advised its citizens against traveling to Ethiopia.
The provisions of the state of emergency were then illustrated through a televised statement by the Minister of Justice Gedion Timothewos, who recalled that any form of support to the Tigrinya formations – considered a terrorist organization by the federal government – will be punishable with sentences from 3 to 10 years in prison.
All citizens are called upon to defend their neighborhood or area of residence, registering their personal weapons with the authorities and submitting to the directives issued by the latter for collective defense.
The government is granted the possibility to impose curfew in the main cities of the country, should the situation require the adoption of this measure, which implies the reduction of individual freedom of movement especially at night.
Moreover, the government grants wider powers of investigation and inspection to the armed forces and police, who will now be able to carry out searches and seizures in the homes of citizens suspected of having given ideological and material support to the civilian and military forces of the Tigrinya TPLF.
The government, then, reserves the possibility to transfer the political authority of the areas most directly affected by the threat of attack under military supervision, with the adoption of special powers and the possibility to limit or suspend the role of the press and civil organizations.
Finally, on November 3, the joint investigation of the UN Human Rights Office and the Ethiopian-appointed Human Rights Commission was published, in which numerous crimes against human rights committed by all parties involved in the conflict are denounced. According to the authors of the document, the crimes committed could be considered war crimes and crimes against humanity.