The seizure of two key cities on the main highway to Addis Ababa over the weekend has alarmed Ethiopian leaders, who fear that rapid advances by rebel forces from Tigray may soon threaten the capital itself.
The sudden push towards the towns of Dessie and Kombolcha was accompanied by brief bursts of heavy fighting that had reportedly subsided by Monday night. While Dessie was confirmed to have fallen to the rebels on Sunday, Kombolcha’s fate was less clear, with accounts of continued sporadic shooting.
However, the rebel offensive was the most decisive so far in the year-long conflict with Ethiopian government forces, prompting the country’s Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, to call on loyalists to redouble their efforts to defend the Ethiopian headquarters. can. “Use any kind of weapons to block the destructive [rebel push], to overturn it and bury it, “he said. “Dying for Ethiopia is everyone’s duty.”
Government officials claimed, without offering proof, that up to 100 youths had been executed during the Tigrayan takeover of Kombolcha, adding weight to the rebel boasts of having taken control of the northern city.
Kombolcha residents contacted by Agence France Presse described the chaos as the rebels approached. “The night was filled with many shots,” one man told the news agency. “I heard an air raid past midnight outside the borders of Kombolcha.”
A second man, Hamdiu, a merchant in Kombolcha, said he heard what sounded like an airstrike late at night. “Huge shots were heard until morning,” he said. Federal government forces have frequently used airstrikes in the Tigray region as the war progressed, but denied doing so in Kombolcha.
As fears mounted of a continued advance towards Addis Ababa, 380 km further south, a spokesman for the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), Getachew Reda, denied that the organization had plans over the capital, claiming that the The offensive was aimed only at breaking the government’s siege on the Tigray region, which had been imposed by Ahmed in 2019.
The seeds of the fighting, which has led to massive internal displacement and reports of near-famine in some regions, were sown as Ahmed attempted to consolidate his authority, after taking power a year earlier, in part by merging the opposition and regional political parties. In his. . The TPLF, which had dominated Ethiopian politics for nearly three decades, refused to join and subsequently held regional elections that the Ahmed-led government declared illegal.
Since fighting broke out in 2021, it has since drawn troops from the nearby Eritrea and Amhara region of Ethiopia and threatened to spread further across the country and across its borders to Sudan and Somalia. The war has led to frequent reports of rape, massacres, slavery and widespread humanitarian abuse.
Chronicling the suffering has been nearly impossible, with most aid agencies, including the UN, Doctors Without Borders and the Norwegian Council for Refugees, banned from the country, and journalists banned from covering the fighting. Agencies have estimated that around 4.5 million people need help and around 1 million are in inaccessible areas. In June, the UN estimated that 400,000 people were already at risk of famine-like conditions.
International reaction to the Tigrayan advance has moderated. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington was alarmed by “reports of the TPLF acquisition of Dessie and Kombolcha. “Continued fighting prolongs the terrible humanitarian crisis in northern Ethiopia,” he said on Twitter. Regional authorities in Amhara had previously estimated that nearly 250,000 people had taken refuge in both cities, having fled the fighting in other parts of the country.
Amhara officials on Monday ordered government institutions to stop working and join the war effort. Before Ahmed assumed power, the Tigrayans had dominated much of the Ethiopian army and brought much of that power to the battlefields. However, government forces are in control of the skies and widespread reports have emerged that Ahmed’s war effort was supported by UAE-supplied drones flown from bases in nearby Eritrea.
AFP contributed to this report
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism