The new offensive launched by the Federal Government of Ethiopia against the Tigrinya forces of the TDF has succeeded in achieving important tactical results on the ground, reconquering some of the most important localities along the A2, B11 and B21 highways.
On December 6, the front line along the border with the regional state of Afar finally collapsed, allowing Federal and Allied forces to recapture the town of Bati, which had long been the outpost of the TDF offensive towards the town of Mile, along the course of the B11 highway.
With the fall of Bati and the simultaneous retreat of most of the front-line forces of the TDF, the important towns of Kombolcha and Dessie also fell to the federal forces on the same day.
The entrance of the federal troops in the two urban centers seems to have taken place without any particular difficulty, following the contextual retreat to the north of the TDF forces, which abandoned their positions without apparently wishing to engage in a combat that could have further weakened them.
Between December 7 and 8 the federal forces, together with the Amhara and Fano militias, continued their advance towards the north, along the A2 highway, recapturing some minor localities, thus establishing the front-line at the town of Idari, about 10 km from Mersa, which is now the most advanced point of the Tigrinya projection along the A2 highway, before the important center of Woldiya.
The federal offensive then seems to have stopped on December 9, while the Tigrinya forces of the TDF tried to strengthen the defense along the new front line. The main objective achieved by the ENDF, Amhara, and Fano forces on the tactical level was to have physically separated the Tigrinya TDF forces from the Oromos’ OLA militias, dispersing the latter to the rural areas and hills.
In this way, the risk of an offensive in the direction of Addis Ababa, along with that of its economic strangulation through the blockade of the A1, A2 and A3 highways, was averted, at least for the moment.
On December 9, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed also returned to the capital from the front, formally reassuming the powers temporarily transferred to Deputy Prime Minister Mekonnen at the time of his departure to launch the offensive against the TDF forces.
The return to Addis Ababa was described by Abiy Ahmed as temporary, at the end of what he described as the first phase of the “National Unity in Diversity” operation. However, Abiy Ahmed wanted to remind that the conflict is not over, and will continue “until the enemy is in ruins”.
The special envoy of the African Union for the Horn of Africa, Olusegun Obasanjo, has tried to promote a ceasefire between the parties, without however achieving any result, while the spokeswoman for the Ethiopian government, Billene Seyum, has returned to accusing the international community of adopting a double standard towards Ethiopia. According to federal authorities, in fact, the absence of a condemnation by the international organizations for human rights violations and atrocities committed by Tigrayan forces, represents unequivocally how the conflict has been the subject of a partial and unbalanced reading in support of TPLF forces.
The accusation is made in particular towards the United States and some countries of the European Union, which would have defined as “ethnically motivated” the ongoing conflict, without investigating the responsibilities of the Tigray’s political leadership and the conduct of their military operations.
On December 9, however, the World Food Program announced the suspension of food distribution in the cities of Dessie and Kombolcha, after retreating TDF forces, and then local civilians, looted the organization’s warehouses and threatened officials there with weapons.
The Ethiopian Federal Air Force, on the other hand, has continued unceasingly to strike the columns of Tigrinya vehicles and soldiers retreating towards the north, using both its own fighter-bombers and the new Turkish-made drones, the Bayraktar TB-2, to which it owes its ability to subvert the balance along the front line.
The current maneuvering dimension of the federal and of the Amhara and Fano forces counter-offensive is articulated in three directions, which from the east, west and south intend to converge in order to isolate the city of Woldiya and thus move the front-line further north, near the Tigray border.
The western line of the offensive, after the conquest of Gashena on December 1 and the subsequent fall of Istayish on December 9, intends to regain control of the B22 highway, thus reaching Woldiya from the west.
The southern route is today located a few kilometers south of Mersa, along the route of the A2 highway, about 60 km south of Woldiya, in a mostly flat area, surrounded by hills that seem to be still under the full control of the TDF forces.
The eastern route – to date the most insidious for the TDF – intends to move from Boren, near the border with the regional state of Afar, in the direction of Kobo, in order to take control of the northern part of the A2 highway and consequently isolate to the south the city of Woldya, about 50 km from Kobo. For several days now there have been reports of masses of federal, Amhara and Afar troops near Boren, while federal drones have been hammering the A2 highway near Kobo, suggesting the imminent launch of a new offensive in that direction.
Unexpectedly, however, on December 12 federal and allied Amhara and Fano forces left the city of Lalibela, which was reconquered the same day – without fighting – by TDF forces.
Finally, the TPLF continues to deny the extent of the victories announced by the federal government, defining the evolution of the conflict as a mere tactical rearrangement decided by the TDF to better organize the defense of its borders. A rather fragile narrative, which hides the real concern for a general overthrow of the front.