In Ethiopia, the “little” total war

While the two main enemies clashing in northern Ethiopia are more or less true, the war that lasts and spreads in this country of 110 million people, which was hoped to be able to hold its own. role – supreme irony – of regional security pole, is one of the deadliest on the planet.

In a statement dated August 30, the rebels of the Tigray Defense Forces (TDF) – named after their regional stronghold, structured around the former Popular Front for the Liberation of Tigray party (TPLF), having dominated the ruling coalition for nearly thirty years – announced that they had recently killed 3,073 men of the “Enemy forces”, that is to say of the federal government coalition, and injuring 4,473.

Opposite, the forces loyal to the Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, are grouped around the portion of the federal army which did not switch to the rebel side when the war broke out in November 2020. They are supported by the troops in full expansion of various militias, paramilitary groups and “special forces” from several Ethiopian regional states. And have two tactical cards to take down as a last resort. On the one hand, drones, some of which have been ordered from Turkey; on the other hand, the crucial external actor in this conflict: neighboring Eritrea, which would be capable of deploying some twenty divisions in Ethiopia and has already intervened on several occasions. According to a report given in recent days by the government, more than 5,600 rebels have been killed in recent military operations.

Three open fronts

Nearly 10,000 deaths, therefore, in total. These figures are not implausible, so serious is the extension of the fighting in Ethiopia since the beginning of the summer. After a phase of progression of the TDF, in July-August, the loyalists are now leading the counter-offensive. The fighting takes place on three fronts: east (Afar region), west (Amhara region), to which is now added a central front towards the city of Dessie, 400 kilometers north of the capital, Addis Ababa. If a few weeks ago, the rebels still hoped to break into Sudan, they remained stranded in western Tigray – their own region – by a strong line of loyalist troops and Amhara militiamen, reinforced by a return in late August of Eritrean troops.

As early as June, aware that the confinement in the Tigray pocket, with four million civilians on the verge of famine, electricity and telephone cut off, signed their term sentence, the rebels had devised a maneuver to circumvent the obstacle. . Beginning a progression towards the Amhara region, they then allied themselves with an armed group of the Afar. At the end of August, Tigrayan sources estimated they could ramp up along this eastern axis to cut the vital logistics artery connecting Addis Ababa to the port of Djibouti. TDF officials then sent messages to the Djiboutian government, affirming that there was no belligerent intention towards it: the maneuver, purely tactical, aimed at opening an alternative corridor passing through Afar, contiguous to Tigray. It was already a fallback solution, while they had failed, since July, to break through in the direction of Sudan.

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