The Tigray war has already been through three phases. It may be about to enter a fourth

Phase one: The war that erupted in Tigray on 4 November was the result of lengthy planning by President Isaias Afwerki of Eritrea and Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Abiy Ahmed. Within weeks their troops – supported by Somali soldiers and Amhara militia – had driven the forces loyal to the government of Tigray – out of Mekelle, capital of Tigray.

On 28 November Prime Minister Abiy could declare victory.

The Ethiopian prime minister claimed that government troops had established “full control” of the city. PM Abiy declared that the conflict had been “successfully concluded”.

Phase two: This began on 18 June when the Tigrayans – who had been surviving and rebuilding their military in the region’s hills and mountains – went on the offensive. They launched what they called “Operation Alula Aba Nega,” or simply “Operation Alula.”

In just ten days, from 18 June to 28 June 2021 the Tigrayans succeeded in sweeping all before them, until they marched back into Mekelle. As the Economist reported:

“At sunset on June 28th—seven months to the day after Abiy Ahmed, Ethiopia’s prime minister, declared victory over the ruling party in Tigray as his troops occupied Mekelle—Tigrayans came onto the streets to celebrate the flight of federal troops. Officials appointed by Abiy’s government to run the region were whisked out of town as if from a crime scene. “There are celebrations in every house in Mekelle,” said Haile Kiros, a teacher in the city, before phone lines were cut.”

Phase three: Capturing Mekelle and expelling the invading forces from most of Tigray did not end the war. Tigray continued to be blockaded by both Eritrea and Ethiopia, with little outside food and humanitarian supplies reaching the region.

Tigray blocked points of entry

Large parts of western Tigray had long been claimed by their neighbours – the Amhara – and continued to be occupied by Amhara, Eritrean and Ethiopian troops, who were determined to prevent Tigray from establishing a route to Sudan, through which they could receive aid and other supplies.

As a result the Tigray Defence Forces (TDF) went on the offensive in two directions. They struck eastwards, to try to reach key roads in the Afar region and southwards, to reach key targets in the Amhara region.

The TDF was both successful and unsuccessful. The offensive in Afar was apparently halted by a major mobilisation of the Ethiopian military.

The Amhara offensive was more successful, pushing deep into the region.

Ethiopia Map – 7 September 2021

Phase 4: It is now possible that another phase of this war is about to begin.

It is noticeable that a Tigrayan attack attempting to cut the road between Gondar and Bahir Dar appears to have failed. Attempts to take the key town of Dessie on the road to Bahir Dar also seems to have halted.

This is – in part – because there are reports that Eritrean forces have been moved into the Amhara region to reinforce the Amhara and Ethiopian troops fighting the TDF.

The first reports suggested that at least four Eritrean divisions had advanced from the strategic Ethiopian town of Humera, towards the Amharan town of Gondar. The Eritrean divisions are said to include the 16th, 18th, 31st and 57th. Helicopters are reported to have been used in the deployment.

Is the TDF about to be forced to retreat?

This is what the analyst, Rashid Abdi Tweeted today:

Ethiopia’s current diplomatic offensive in Africa is about obtaining support for a new military campaign to crush the TDF. Plan is to launch massive new offensive when dry season starts in Oct, using Turkish drones, new recruits, plus Eritrea.

This comes as Ethiopia Map reports that:

“Afar forces have recaptured the vast majority of Afar which was taken by the TDF earlier in the summer. Kelwan, close to Woldiya, was captured by Afari forces, putting them in a position to threaten the TDF supply line into Amhara.”

Has the tide turned against Tigray and the TDF? Of course it is possible that Tigray’s allies among the Oromo and Afar and other groups will go onto the offensive as well, tipping the scales in the other direction.

Nothing is presently certain: much is in the balance.