Northern Ethiopia has been a war zone for the past twenty two months. Several atrocities have been committed, and more than three million people are internally displaced. When the Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF) declared a victory in less than a month after November 4, 2020, attack on the Ethiopian military command by the Tigray People Liberation Front (TPLF), Tigray’s situation seemed to be normalized, and TPLF forces had scattered from every major city in Tigray.
However, the war was far from over as TPLF revived its forces with the support of foreign powers and squandered every opportunity for peace.
What was the Western and Biden Administration’s role as the TPLF regrouped and reemerged for more rounds of war in June 2021 and August 2022? What do the U.S. and West need to learn from the 22 months of senseless conflict? Is there a need for a change of action from the U.S. and Western nations to bring lasting peace to the Horn and stop needless human suffering?
TPLF 27 Years of Ruling: The TPLF, composed solely of Tigrayans, a minority group within Ethiopia, led Ethiopia for 27 years – during which they detained and killed thousands of civilians, opposition leaders, and activists, censored the media, and embezzled hundreds of billions of dollars from Ethiopia. In early 2018, after a nationwide resistance, TPLF was forced to relinquish power to a coalition of politicians representing all ethnicities, including Amhara and Oromo people, the largest ethnic groups in the country. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed led this coalition, and people celebrated this peaceful transition across Ethiopia.
TPLF continued to conspire to re-grip Ethiopian politics when it lost its hegemony over most military and economic power. Consequently, the TPLF executed a “pre-emptive strike” on November 4, 2020 that several TPLF senior leaders later admitted was planned to capture the Northern Command of the Ethiopian National Defense Forces, by far the biggest constellation of military bases and heavy armaments in the country, which TPLF had placed in Tigray during their 27 years in power.
November 2020: The “pre-emptive strike” in November 2020 was coordinated with an international cyber campaign; recently, a team of data scientists at GETFACTet uncovered the origin and trending of “#TigrayGenocide,” a popular TPLF social media campaign and a cyber war designed to shape the public perception of the conflict.
According to the data, non-military actors outside Ethiopia coordinated the #TigrayGenocide cyber campaign linked to the TPLF military command’s preplanned military attack or “pre-emptive strike” and a cyber war launched hours before TPLF attacked the army base on November 4, 2020.
What happened between January and July 2021 that led to the reemergence of war in July 2021? GoE’s (Goverment of Ethiopia) swift response in mid-November and December 2020 allowed the Ethiopian Defense Force to contain the conflict within three weeks in the Tigray region and prevent the TPLF from advancing toward Addis Ababa to topple the Government. Yet, the war restarted and spread outside Tigray to the Amhara and Afar regions later in the year, costing many lives.
January-February, 2021: At the beginning of 2021, within a month of the operation to contain the conflict, a governmental regulatory body was formed to establish an interim government in Tigray. These appointed leaders were ethnically Tigrayan, and the goal was to rehabilitate the region; the GoE provided more than 70 percent of humanitarian aid assistance to the people affected by the conflict.
In addition, the Government continued the local Government’s responsibility of providing essential services until the Tigrayan people elected their local representatives. In addition, GoE allowed international NGOs to support the region and International media to report from the ground.
During this time, prominent TPLF leaders were tracked down and arrested, and most of their mechanized forces, which they had used to bomb cities in the Amhara region and Eritrea, were disabled. The remnants of the TPLF forces left the major cities, including Aksum, Adwa, Adigrat, and the capital city, Mekelle, and scattered to different parts of the Tigray mountains to form a guerilla rebel group.
February – May 2021: During this period, the new United States Biden administration reversed the former U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo’s stance on supporting Ethiopia’s government action on law enforcement in the Northern part of Ethiopia. Consequently, the State Department released statements targeting GoE while looking the other way to TPLF’s aggression.
Furthermore, Linda Thomas, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, pressed the member states to bring Ethiopia’s internal issues to the Security Council for possible sanctions. At the U.N. closed meeting, which was leaked by former U.N. migration chief, Maureen Achie, exposed UN higher-up, likely directed by Dr. Tedros Adhanom, part of TPLF leadership and a seating WHO director, and other officials collaborating with TPLF command to pressure Ethiopia.
Maureen Achie and others challenged the U.S. and U.N. allegations of atrocities, particularly the allegation of sexual violence by the Ethiopian military. Despite several U.N. officials at the local offices stating that no credible data is available to justify such accusations, Maureen and others were fired from their posts to cover up Western political interests.
The Biden Administration’s attempts to pressure Ethiopia using the U.N. Security Council failed more than five times as of May 2021. President Biden, using his executive power. decided to take a unilateral action to ban Ethiopian Government officials from entering the U.S., which was considered an “initial measure”.
As the State Department, USAID, and other Western organizations piled pressure on Ethiopia with a clear indication of economic sanction or military intervention; and as TPLF forces continued to wage asymmetric guerilla warfare, making it impossible to return Tigray to peaceful normalcy, the GoE decided to declare a unilateral ceasefire and withdraw the federal army from Tigray region.
While this was a golden opportunity for TPLF to pursue negotiations after being allowed to recapture control of Tigray, the rebel group instead called the ceasefire “a sick jock” and seized the opportunity to mobilize the civilian population – including child soldiers for war, divert USAID food and resources for the ill-defined conflict effort, and launched and expanded the war outside Tigray region that could have ended in June 2021.
June – November 2021: In the second phase of the conflict after June 2021, the TPLF, with the support of their brainchild OLA (Oromo Liberation Army), invaded different cities in Amhara and Afar regions with an ultimate plan of forcefully overthrowing the federal government by marching toward the capital Addis Ababa. Since June 2021, more than two million people have been internally displaced from Afar and Amhara regions, and TPLF soldiers have been accused of several atrocities, including killing targeted ethnic groups and civilians, raping women, destroying electric and telecommunication infrastructures, hospitals, churches, and looting food aid warehouses.
With the knowledge of the TPLF’s oppressive history and current destructive agenda for Ethiopia, the Biden Administration and European nations continued pressuring Ethiopia using economic power, such as removing Ethiopia from AGOA, a program that assists the economies of sub-Saharan African countries by providing a free trade agreement with the U.S.
Meanwhile, TPLF destruction has gone to the extent of looting and destroying religious sites and heritage sites in the Amhara and Afar regions. The Ethiopian people have been asking why the U.S. and Europe are prolonging the suffering of the Ethiopian people by applying grossly uneven pressure on the Ethiopian Government, which has no choice but to defend the people of Ethiopia from the TPLF’s aggression.
November 2021: In December 2021, the Ethiopian Government reversed TPLF’s military aggression outside Tigray, recaptured the cities invaded by the TPLF in Amhara and Afar regions, took the higher road, and decided not to enter Tigray. The decision was to give peace to civilians and farmers a chance to resettle for Ethiopia’s harvest season.
Meanwhile, TPLF isolated and held hostage the Tigrayan people, jailed and killed civil servants, including electric power, telecommunication personnel, and bank workers, and denied international media and independent organizations from entering Tigray since GoE left Tigray in June 2021.
February – August 2022: TPLF continued to position itself as a gateway for access to humanitarian aid to the people in Tigray and continued blocking the only humanitarian corridor through Abala, Afar, by triggering more than 30 conflicts in the area. In addition, TPLF continues denying families in Tigray access to food if they don’t give their son and daughter, with TPLF’s one-child policy for military training.
Despite these challanges, GoE declared a humanitarian truce in March 2022 to allow unfettered humanitarian aid to Tigary, and between July 20th – August 9th, 2022 alone, Tigray has received 29,942 metric tons of food, 31,940 metric tons of non-food items, 668,579 liters of fuel, 23.63 metric tons of medicine, and 2,096 metric tons of fertilizer and 300 million Ethiopian Birr.
Before and during this time, TPLF recruited more than 250 thousand soldiers, including child soldiers, smuggling arms from neighboring regions using military aircraft, defying the purpose of the ceasefire and preventing farmers from engaging in food production to reduce hunger and food crises in the region.
In addition, OLA, a brainchild of TPLF, launched coordinated terrorist activities in the Oromia region, killing hundreds of Amhara and other civilians to ignite ethnic tension in Ethiopia for political gain and divert the Ethiopian military attention and resource for their subsequent military plan. TPLF’s terrorism campaign was not limited to the west of Ethiopia that OLA directed; they continued their coordinated terrorism attack with Al Shabaab in Somalia, costing innocent Ethiopians lives in the past two months.
August 2022: Leading to mid-August 2022, TPLF was finalizing to launch the third round of attack; according to the leaked document from the TPLF central command, “TPLF’s final chapter and strategies.” TPLF leaders undermined the AU-led peace process and publicly discredited A.U. and Mr. Obassanjo as “The African Union cannot deliver peace to Tigray” TPLF’s spokesperson Getachew Reda published in The Africa Report on August 22, 2022.
Following that, TPLF looted WFP’s fuel and aid supplies delivered to the people of Tigray, diverted resources, and launched the third round of war on August 24 outside Tigary in Amhara and Afar regions. TPLF’s action displaced thousands and blocked the only humanitarian corridor, risking starving people in Tigray and the neighboring regions.
TPLF’s third resumption of the conflict to gain political power by arm struggle is a mistake and proof that TPLF has no intention for peace. Millions of northern Ethiopians do not have any guarantee from another TPLF occupation, displacement, atrocities, and the possibility of their daughters being raped and their sons being forced to join the war.
Since the beginning of the conflict, the U.S. and the E.U. have not unequivocally condemned TPLF actions. In several instances, they could have pressured TPLF to bring peace: in June 2020 at the first GoE unilateral ceasefire, in December 2021 when GoE decided not to enter Tigary, in March 2022 when the GoE declared a humanitarian truce, and in August 2022 when TPLF was preparing to launch a third round of war, breaking the peace process.
The U.S. and E.U. already bear moral responsibility for playing a significant role in bolstering TPLF, a group that led Ethiopia for three decades with tyranny to emerge as a new force to create a spiraling and brutal conflict in northern Ethiopia. Responsibility for the loss of civilian lives and the destruction of communities and infrastructure that has resulted from TPLF’s expansion of the conflict falls not only on the TPLF but also on the U.S. and other prominent Western nations that have emboldened the rebels.
If the Biden Administration and Western nations continue to be silent to TPLF’s atrocities and antagonize the democratically elected Ethiopian Government, they are setting Ethiopia on the course of disintegration, which will no doubt have tragic and far-reaching consequences.