The evolution of the war in Ethiopia’s Tigray region is again characterized by a resumption of the intensity of fighting and, above all, the advance of the federal, Eritrean forces and the Amhara and Fano militias. The offensive against Tigrayan TDF forces has now been launched for over a week on three fronts, in the north, west, and south, and the TPLF’s ability to defend itself appears to have been severely compromised.
After intense fighting, Ethiopian and Eritrean forces captured the town of Shire in northwestern Tigray on October 17. The operation had been preceded by numerous actions conducted with armed drones and sustained artillery fire, which sapped Tigray’s defenses along the northern road axis connecting the town to the Eritrean border.
After the capture of Shire, Ethiopian and Eritrean federal forces continued rapidly in their eastward advance along the course of the B30 road, capturing the town of Selekleka on October 19 and Wukro on October 22, and quickly succeeding in the same day in advancing toward Axum and Adua, both of which were captured without particular resistance from the Tigrinya side (https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/10/17/ethiopia-tigray-eritrea-war-shire/).
At the same time, federal forces together with Amhara forces and Fano militias launched an offensive along the southern stretch of the B30 road, north of the regional border between Amhara and Tigrai, pushing northward in the direction of Shire for about 30 kilometers, succeeding in capturing the village of Amba Madre on October 22.
A third front of the offensive, on the other hand, involved the southern area of Tigray, where federal army forces together with Amhara and Fano militias broke through the front on October 17 by moving up the course of the A2 highway, succeeding in capturing Alamata and then expanding east and westward to fan out.
On October 17 the federal offensive succeeded in pushing further north along the course of the A2, capturing the town of Korem, and from there allowing it to expand its control westward along the road connecting with the Amhara regional state, capturing the villages of Adi Washa, Falla and Zata.
Instead, on October 22, the town of Kersole and then the villages of Bala and Bisober were captured along a road route from Alamata, eastward, abutting the border with Afar regional state.
In this way a large area of southern Tigray nearing the border with Afar and Amhara has fallen under the control of government forces, whose intent would now appear to be to move up north along the route of the A2 highway and its eastern branch (https://borkena.com/2022/10/18/ethiopia-confirmed-capture-of-some-cities-in-tigray-coordinating-aid/).
By contrast, the ongoing offensive does not appear to have affected the northeastern area at this stage, where, however, sporadic artillery clashes have been reported north of Adigrat. This circumstance is presumably only temporary, as it should be considered likely that a combined action was also launched along the northern section of the A2 highway, as a preliminary maneuver before launching the offensive toward the capital Mekelle.
The fragmentary information coming from the region would seem to confirm how the ongoing offensive by Ethiopian federal forces together with Eritrean forces, Amhara and Fano militias was possible as a result of the general failure of the defensive capabilities of the Tigrinya forces, which, however, abandoned most of the conquered areas without putting up any particular resistance (https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-63275598).
This circumstance could signify a change in strategy by the TPLF, through an assessment – as at the beginning of the conflict – of the need to restore offensive capability against enemy forces within the peripheral areas, transitioning from a war of frontal opposition to a long-term guerrilla phase.
It is unclear at present whether the defense of Mekelle is an effective priority for Tigrayan forces, preferring instead to preserve the integrity of forces and arsenals in preparation for prolonged guerrilla action.
The experience of the war in Tigray has repeatedly shown how front reversals are not only possible but, indeed, frequent, and has at the same time highlighted how the role of Eritrean forces is crucial in ensuring the necessary military capacity on the ground.
Thus, if even Tigray were to fall entirely under the control of federal forces over the next few days or weeks, it would determine for the government in Addis Ababa the problem of ensuring the maintenance of military capacity in the region and, at the same time, the need to manage the delicate relationship with the Eritreans.
The violence brought by the conflict in the region, and the subsequent humanitarian crisis, have led to deep rifts and widespread resentment among the Tigrinya population, determining conditions for the federal forces far different from those of November 2020. Changed, too, is the set-up of internal balances within the system of ethnic federalism, and it will thus be necessary to carefully assess how the Amhara and the Oromo in particular will want and be able to define a synergistic policy among themselves and with the federal government in Addis Ababa.