Ethiopia’s national army has launched a ground offensive on forces from the rebellious northern region of Tigray, just days after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed was sworn in for a new five-year term as the leader of Africa’s second-most populous country.
Getachew Reda, a spokesman for the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), said the army, alongside forces from the northern region of Amhara, launched the attack on Monday morning.
“On the morning of Oct.11, the Ethiopian military with the support of Amhara special forces launched coordinated offensives on all fronts,” Reda’s office said in a statement.
The spokesman further said there was fighting in Amhara’s Wegeltena, Wurgessa and Haro towns, and that the forces were using heavy artillery, fighter jets, drones, tanks and rockets to attack.
Last week, the TPLF sources said there had been “mostly air, drone and artillery bombardment” of rebels, and reported a major troop build-up. “Tens of thousands are amassed,” they said, in northern Amhara, including the North Gondar and North Wollo zones.
Abiy was sworn in on October 4. His government has faced withering criticism over the conflict, notably from Washington, a longtime ally, with President Joe Biden signing an executive order allowing for sanctions against the warring parties if they fail to commit to a negotiated settlement.
Following the inauguration ceremony, Abiy struck a defiant tone, telling a crowd of tens of thousands in Addis Ababa that “any friendship shouldn’t be at the expense of sacrificing Ethiopia’s honor.”
The latest military build-up is taking place in the areas where Ethiopian forces were present in the early days of the conflict. For months, Ethiopian forces and soldiers from Eritrea were carrying out grievous crimes including rape and massacre of civilians. The government recently expelled seven senior UN officials from the country, accusing them of “meddling” in the internal affairs of Ethiopia.
Tigray is under a de facto blockade that is preventing most aid from getting in, according to the UN. Ethiopian authorities and the TPLF have blamed each other for obstructing deliveries. Ethiopian officials also accuse the international community of ignoring abuses committed by the TPLF.