SITUATION UPDATE BRIEF: ETHIOPIA – CONFLICT IN THE TIGRAY REGION – CURRENT SITUATION AND SCENARIOS

Latest Developments since 6 November

Fighting between the military and forces loyal to the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) has escalated in the Tigray Region in the past few days. The federal government claims that in fighting over 7-8 November the army had taken control of a large swathe of western Tigray, primarily in the area which was historically part of Gondar Province in the Amhara Region. Military officials claim that the armed forces had secured Maydeli, Dansha, Baeker, Legudi and Humera Airport, with troops now expected to push eastwards towards the regional capital Mekele. While the government has not provided details of combat in the area, military sources allege that hundreds have been killed on both sides. Medical sources have corroborated claims of intense fighting, stating that 96 government soldiers were being treated for gunshot wounds in a hospital in the Amhara Region.

Moreover, the government confirmed on 6 November, that the military had conducted airstrikes against military installations around Mekele held by TPLF-aligned forces. These sites were allegedly the positions of several long-range ‘rocket launchers’, which allegedly threatened cities in the Amhara Region. The government claims these weapons have now been destroyed and that the TPLF no longer have the capability to conduct strikes outside Tigray. However, the TPLF have stated that they will target airports in Ethiopia in order to counter the government’s use of airpower. The paucity of local reporting makes assessing the veracity of these competing claims extremely difficult, although there have been no reports yet of TPLF counter-strikes beyond Tigray.

On 8 November, the government announced a reshuffle of the nation’s security apparatus, most notably replacing the military’s Chief of Staff, the Foreign Minister and the head of the National Intelligence and Security Service. In most cases officials were replaced by other senior members of the political and military hierarchy, such as Chief of Staff General Adem Mohammed, who was replaced by his deputy Birhanu Jula. Mohammed is the only outgoing official who has not yet been designated a new position following the reshuffle, which the government claims will enable them to better prosecute the conflict. This may represent an effort to address the significant influence of the TPLF within the senior echelons of the Ethiopian security forces, and demonstrates the government’s current commitment to implementing a military solution to the conflict.

The UN have again called for both sides to de-escalate the conflict, with officials from the UN humanitarian office in Ethiopia stating that the fighting threatened an additional 9 million people, with 2 million people in the region already receiving some kind of humanitarian aid. This crisis has been further exacerbated by the severing of communication with the region, which is preventing aid groups from properly assessing the scale of humanitarian need and conditions for civilians. Additionally, restrictions on movement are leading to fuel and food shortages, with fuel supplies in particular expected to run out in about a week, hampering the evacuation of local staff and compounding domestic unrest.  

Current Situation

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced a six-month state of emergency and the launch of military operations in the Tigray Region following an alleged TPLF assault on a federal military base on the night of the 3-4 November. The military operations launched by Ahmed will attempt to subdue the TPLF and its associated militia groups. Following Ahmed’s announcement, internet and telecommunication services in Tigray were cut and a no-fly zone was implemented over the region.

Despite the TPLF denying the initial assault, the military confirmed that forces were being mobilised from across the country to deploy to Tigray and support Northern Command operations from 5 November. The TPLF claims they have secured artillery and weaponry from the Northern Command, which they allege has defected to their side; the federal government denies this.

The situation in Tigray and along its borders remains fluid and opaque. The severing of communications links with the region means that little information is available and what does emerge is unreliable – usually heavily partisan either in favour of the TPLF or federal government. Nevertheless, it is possible to discern two broad scenarios at this stage….

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