NAROBI, Kenya – Conflict in northern Ethiopia has escalated in recent days, as Ethiopian forces launched a sweeping offensive to reverse recent gains by Tigreyan rebels, Western officials and Tigreyan leaders said.
UN officials said the attack would deepen the humanitarian crisis in a region that has been hit by the world’s worst famine in a decade. With the Ethiopian government blocking aid shipments, some hungry tigers are eating leaves to survive.
Senior Western officials largely confirmed Tigreyan accounts that the attack, which had been feared for weeks, began in the Amhara region, which borders Tigre to the south. But beyond that, it is difficult to get a clear picture of the situation.
A strict communications blackout imposed by the government means few details about the fight can be independently confirmed. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who was sworn in for a second term last week, has declined to comment in recent days.
His spokesman did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.
Speaking over the phone, Tigre forces commander General Tsadakan Gebretens said that Ethiopian forces had launched a military operation on Friday with bombing Tigrean positions using warplanes, artillery and drones.
He said on Monday, Ethiopians turned to a ground attack led by thousands of fighters that would be faced with a counter-attack from Tigran.
“The enemy has been preparing for months, and so have we,” said General Tsadakan, who previously commanded Ethiopia’s armed forces for a decade. He predicted that the coming battle would be a “decisive moment” for the country.
“The effects will be military, political and diplomatic,” he said. “I don’t think it will be a long battle – a matter of days, maybe weeks.”
For Mr Abiy, winner of the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, the offensive is an attempt to regain control of an 11-month brutal war in which ruined his reputation As a peacemaker and in recent months fell out of his grasp as fighting spread to new territories.
Mr Abiy appears increasingly isolated from international support as the United States threatens him with the prospect of sanctions, and he is at conflict with the UN leadership. Only a few African leaders continue to support him.
Ethiopia this month Expelled Seven senior UN officials accused him of “interfering” in the country’s internal affairs and aiding the Tigrayan rebels. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres denied those allegations in unusually scathing language, telling Mr Abiy that there was no legal basis for the expulsion.
Comparing the situation to the devastating Somalia famine of 2011, Mr Guterres said he warned Mr Abio Ethiopia’s sanctions on the distribution of aid had caused a humanitarian crisis that was “getting out of control.”
The United Nations says more than 5 million tigresses are in urgent need of relief aid, and at least 400,000 are in famine-like conditions. But only a tenth of the aid needed has reached them because Ethiopia has blocked routes in the region, officials said.
The Biden administration has tried to force Mr Abiy and Tigrayan into peace talks by threatening sanctions against “officers and entities” who withhold humanitarian aid and refuse to stop fighting.
However, with his latest attack, Mr. Abi appears to be gambling that he can use force to win.
Western officials said Ethiopian leaders had been preparing for an offensive for months. He collected new weapons from foreign suppliers and recruited thousands of young Ethiopians to help fight the Tigreyan forces, which he describes as “cancer” and “weed”.
A Western official said Mr Abiy had obtained new drones manufactured in Iran, Turkey and China, although it is not clear who supplied them to Ethiopia. Nearby websites that track international air traffic Dozens of cargo flights were recorded from the United Arab Emirates, and in a handful of Ethiopian Air Force bases off Iran over the past six weeks.
Tigrian leader is charged UAE sent armed drones to assist Mr. Abi during this early weeks of the war last November; Emirates officials have declined to comment. The air strikes took away much of the Tigreyan artillery and forced his troops to retreat into the remote countryside.
Now a more consequential question is whether Eritrea will rally again in favor of Mr. Abi. Eritrean troops offered significant support in the first phase of the war by June, and faced many of the worst charges of atrocities against civilians. Two Western officials said Eritreans are currently occupying Humira, a city in the western Tigre, and some have been stationed in Amhara.
But it is not clear whether they are participating in the latest fight.
The Tigreyan forces formed a series of amazing win Which forced the Ethiopian army to drive out of Tigre. In July, the Tigers pushed into the Amhara region, where fighting has been concentrated ever since.
The long-running dispute between the Amhara and the Tigre over a portion of the disputed land led the Amhara militia to join the fight against the Tigre last November. The Tigrayans say those fighters are also taking part in the latest attacks, with regular Ethiopian soldiers and young men from across Ethiopia attracted by Mr Abi’s appeals to recruits during the summer.
But the Tigreyan commander, General Tsadakan, said he sees Eritrea’s autocratic leader, Isaias Afwerki, as his greatest threat, a longtime enemy of the Tigrans.
“Isaias and his army are the major spoilers in this area,” he said. “If the international community is sincerely seeking a peaceful solution, there will be no agreement without the care of Christ.”
Both sides are facing heavy pressure. Baghayan, surrounded by enemies, runs the risk of running out of supplies soon. Mr Abiy is wrestling with a sharp economic fallout that has led to food prices and foreign exchange shortages, which US sanctions could soon make worse.
Ethiopian Airlines, Africa’s biggest airline and Ethiopia’s major economic success, denied a report on CNN last week that its planes were used to send weapons and troops to the war in Tigre.
On Tuesday, US Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken met with the newly appointed African Union envoy to Ethiopia, former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, to discuss the crisis.
Some African leaders stand with Mr. Abiy. His inauguration ceremony in Addis Ababa last week was attended by six heads of state, mostly from the region. But several congratulatory speeches contained expressions of growing concern, and urged Mr. Abiy to move to peace talks.
“Ethiopia is our mother,” said Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta. “If our mother is not calm, then the family cannot live in peace either.”
Criticism of Mr. Abi is becoming increasingly intense in the West. last week a Essay Mark Lowcock, a former British diplomat and until recently the UN Humanitarian Chief, accused Mr Abi of trying to starve the people of the Tigre “either in subjugation or out of existence” and warned that he would destroy his country. Taking the risk of being demolished.
“Abi’s game plan may not work,” wrote Mr Lowcock, adding what he said was a growing expert consensus. “If he tries and fails to destroy the Tigre, he himself will perish. If he succeeds, he will never survive the reaction that will come after him.”