By Paul Mutter
One and a half years after the start of the Tigray War, a ceasefire was reached by the principal parties, the federal Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF) and separatist Tigray Defense Forces (TDF). At the time of writing, the truce remains in effect, with the TDF resolving to cease offensive operations into the rest of Ethiopia in exchange for the lifting of a humanitarian aid blockade. Such aid is desperately needed as over 2.1 million people are displaced and 9.4 million are facing a serious food crisis as a result of the conflict.
The war, which began in November 2020 with a TDF spoiling attack to disrupt a planned ENDF offensive into the Tigray region, has killed up to 50,000 people, with perhaps several thousand more also dying due to famine and disease. After driving out federal forces from the Tigray region by mid-2021, the TDF pushed into the neighbouring Amhara and Afar regions. The rebels also announced the formation of the United Front of Ethiopian Federalist and Confederalist Forces, nominally bringing together nine anti-government armies active across the country.
However, the coalition proved to be little more than a propaganda action. By the end of 2021, federal forces, with the support of Amhara and Afar regional security forces and international allies, successfully launched a counter-offensive that erased the gains of the overextended TDF.
With the TDF driven back into the Tigray region proper and increasingly isolated from the outside world, the fighting ultimately stalemated before the current ceasefire was reached. While the TDF was unable to maintain further offensives, federal forces were themselves reluctant to reenter the restive Tigray region and fight on the rebels’ home ground. Federal efforts to push into the region at the start of the war proved disastrous, with huge quantities of equipment lost and tens of thousands of prisoners of war (POWs) taken. [See Riskline’s “Ethiopia’s collapsing federal order and internal conflict”]
Going forward, international support for the ENDF by Eritrea, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) makes a renewed offensive appear a more feasible undertaking than in 2020. But success would still hardly be guaranteed and fighting could drag on in the mountain fastness despite the application of much more air power than before by federal forces. With the initial burst of patriotism caused by the TDF’s invasion of other Ethiopian regions now spent, and the eruption of both new and old internal strife across the country, the federal government will be challenged to maintain a high level of mobilisation.
Despite a ceasefire between federal and rebel forces in Ethiopia, there is no path to returning the status quo antebellum, nor is there agreement on bringing the rebel-held Tigray region back into the national fold.
Paul Mutter is a US-based political and security risk analyst.