On December 13 the reconquest in Ethiopia of the city of Gashena by the TDF Tigrinya forces was confirmed, but shortly afterwards it suffered a new attack by the federal forces of the ENDF, the Amhara and the Fano militias.
On December 16 and 17 several aerial bombings were carried out by the Federal Air Force against the city of Alamata, in southern Tigray, and the local media reported – although the information is difficult to be confirmed – 28 dead and 76 wounded. According to the local media, the attacks were repeated several times during the two days, with sorties conducted both by fighter bombers and drones. Drones, in particular, are said to have hit a market during the attacks on the second day, where most of the civilian victims reported by the Tigray media were recorded.
On December 17, the city of Mersa, along the A2 highway and the last outpost before the city of Woldiya, fell again under the control of federal forces. At the same time the TDF units withdrew from the heights of the northern Wollo area, disorderly retreating towards the north.
The concentrated federal forces in the Boren area, close to the border with the Afar regional state, launched an attack against the city of Kobo on December 17, and contextually tried to push northward, crossing the border of the Tigray regional state, in the Raya area. The objective of the maneuver was to regain control of the stretch of the A2 highway north of Woldiya, in order to isolate the city in anticipation of an attack by federal forces.
The city of Woldiya finally fell on December 18 into the hands of the federal forces, the Amhara and Fano militias, which entered the central part of the town after a day of incessant fighting in the southern and western suburbs of the city.
During the same day, both the city of Gashena and Lalibela returned under the control of the federal forces, while the ENDF pushed deeper along the course of the B22 road, in an easterly direction, conquering the villages of Debot and Agwat Wiya, then rejoining the forces that launched the offensive against Woldiya from the south.
The entire length of the B22 regional road is now under the control of federal forces, with significant difficulties for the TDF in managing supplies and moving frontline units, who are increasingly forced to fall back on foot.
The federal offensive was also launched in the north-eastern region of Wollo, with the fall on December 18 of the town of Kobo, the last major town along the A2 before the border with the regional state of Tigrai.
The fall of Kobo cut off any possibility of supplying the city of Woldiya, which fell on the same day, forcing the Tigrayan forces to accelerate their retreat towards the north and northwest, in what now represents the last strip of land of the regional state of Amhara still under the control of the TDF.
The new phase of the federal offensive finally managed to consolidate its positions through the reconquest of the towns of Sanqa, Sirinqa, Haran, Gobyen, Robit, Hamusit, Estayish, Ahun Tegegne and Dilib, leading to a strengthening of the front that has now allowed the ENDF to reach the border with Tigray.
Although the new offensive of the federal forces, together with the Amhara and Fano militias, achieved important tactical results on the ground, with the reconquest of practically the entire Wollo region and the fall of important centers such as Woldiya, Dessie and Kombolcha, the analysis of the actual capabilities of the actors involved on the ground in the evolution of the conflict is more complex.
Government forces, in fact, have been able to advance rapidly into the lowland regions of the Wollo, taking advantage of the superior airspace control capability and increased offensive capacity provided by the introduction of the Turkish drones into the federal air force.
More complex, however, is the possibility of entering the regional state of Tigray, largely characterized by a hills and mountainous environment, where the combat capability of Tigrinya forces has repeatedly proven to be superior to that of the federal forces.
A variable that is difficult to evaluate in this moment is that connected to the possibility of establishing the actual economic and military resilience of the actors of the war. The conflict has drained enormous resources in terms of money and political legitimacy, both on the federal and on the Tigrayan front, determining a general weakening of all the actors involved in the war. The scarcity of reliable data makes it impossible to conduct a concrete assessment on the state of the local economy and the political stability of the various actors involved, although it is possible to hypothesize, without any margin of error, a drastic overall downsizing.
The risk, therefore, is once again that of a transformation of the balance on the ground, with the possible downsizing of the offensive capacity of the federal forces and the start of a conflict of friction. This scenario, while on the one hand it would open up the possibility of a consolidation of front lines, on the other hand it would favor a general stagnation and the crystallization of the crisis.
Less violence, therefore, but with a progressive worsening of economic and social dynamics on the ground, favored by the inevitable decrease of the international interest.
The international community failed in its attempt to bring both the Tigrayans and the Federal Government to the negotiating table during the initial phase of the crisis and the conflict, when it would still have been – perhaps – possible to identify elements of dialogue and common interest. The undeniable responsibilities of the Tigrayan authorities, before November 2020, could have been mediated by an incisive action of the UN, the African Union, the United States and the European Union, identifying an acceptable solution for the organization of national elections. On the contrary, the absence of any initiative and the subsequent start of a ruthless military campaign led by federal and Eritrean forces – responsible for horrendous crimes and of human rights violations in the north of Tigray – has irreparably transformed the nature of the crisis and the appearance of the conflict.