As ever, nothing is absolutely clear. Nor is independent reporting possible since both Prime Minister Abiy and President Isaias ban local and foreign journalists from the war front. Having said that this is what seems to be happening.
- Ahead of the eruption of fighting last Wednesday (24 August) both Ethiopian and Tigrayan forces were re-positioned and brought to the front.
- The Tigrayans had used the last eight months during which a ceasefire of sorts was in place to train their recruits into a highly effective force. On June 28, in interview with local media, the head of Tigray army’s central command, General Tadesse Werede aka “Wedi Werede”, talked about TDF’s readiness to carry out massive and “strategic operations” that would finish the war once and for all. He also said that for the past eight months that the TDF didn’t get a respite as they were “too busy recruiting and training thousands of soldiers.”
- At the same time Abiy fell out with his Amhara allies, rounding up thousands of the most hardline Fano militia.
- Since 24 August there have been huge battles across a 140 km front in which the TDF say they have taken on an broken 23 divisions plus 9 further Amhara special forces and Fano divisions. The TDF claim to have captured Guguwdo, Fokisa, Zobil, Mendefera, Kobo, Robit, Shiwoch Mariam and Tekulosh.
- They have moved with extraordinary speed and now appear to have captured Woldea. This claim has been contested, but if confirmed it would cut the A2 north-south highway and the B22 road: west-east.
- This advance has been much faster than last year’s offensive. The TDF lost Mekelle in November 2020 and only re-took it at the end of June 2021. On 12 July 2021 the TDF launched a fresh offensive: called ‘operation Tigray Mothers.’ This was followed by ‘operation Sunrise’ which finally saw the capture of Woldiya after very stiff resistance, led by the town’s mayor. It was only in August 2021 that the TDF was able to consolidate its gains and continue advancing southwards.
- Is the next drive towards Dessie and Kombolcha? Or will the TDF consolidate its positions at Woldea – at the strategic intersection of the A2 and B22?
- TDF drive through Amhara seems to have become much easier because Amhara nationalists are not as enthusiastically supporting Abiy’s war against Tigray. Though the Amhara politicians still back Abiy’s offensive, local grassroots resistance lacks the zeal it had last year, largely because of the political differences because of Abiy’s arrests of the more extremist Fano elements.
- There are reports, which need to be confirmed, that Prime Minister Abiy moved the ENDF’s Eastern Command to the West, where they have entered Eritrea and are threatening the Tigrayan town of Shiraro. Also reports – again unconfirmed – of fighting in the East with Afar forces.
All that can be said for certain is that the Tigrayan offensives appear to be extraordinarily successful at present. Their advances have been rapid and there are claims that the Ethiopian forces are in almost complete disarray and full retreat. But, as ever, these claims cannot be verified and we need to wait to see how this war progresses.