Northern Ethiopia has been a war zone for the past eleven months. Several atrocities have been committed, and more than a million people are internally displaced. After Prime Minister Abiy declared a victory less than a month after the Nov 4, 2020 attack of the northern military command by the TPLF (Tigray People Liberation Front), Tigray's situation seemed to be normalized, and TPLF forces had scattered from every major city in Tigray.
What was the Western and Biden Administration's role as the TPLF regrouped themselves and reemerged for another round of war?
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 the Amhara and Oromo people, the largest ethnic groups in the country. This coalition was led by now-Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, and this peaceful transition was celebrated across Ethiopia.
When the TPLF subsequently lost its hegemony over most military and economic power, they continued to conspire to re-grip Ethiopian politics. Consequently, the TPLF executed a “pre-emptive strike” that several TPLF senior leaders later admitted was planned with the goal of capturing 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.
The federal government's swift response allowed the Ethiopian Defense Force to contain the conflict within three weeks in the Tigray region and prevent the TPLF from advancing towards Addis Ababa to topple the government. Yet, the war restarted and spread outside the Tigray region to Amhara and Afar, costing many lives. What happened between January and July 2021 that led to the reemergence of war?
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, provide assistance to the people affected by the conflict, and continue the local government's responsibility of providing basic services until the Tigrayan people elect their representatives.
During this time, prominent TPLF leaders were tracked down and arrested, and most of their mechanized munitions, 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.
Between February – and March 2021, the new United States 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 the Ethiopian Government and showing a clear sign of support of the TPLF rebel group.
Furthermore, Linda Thomas, the U.S. Ambassador at the United Nations, pressed the member states to bring Ethiopia’s internal issues to the Security Council for possible sanctions. At a UN closed meeting, which was recently leaked, other representatives challenged the U.S. allegations of atrocities, particularly sexual violence by Ethiopian forces. Many members stated that there is no credible data available to justify such accusations.
Thus, the Biden Administration’s attempts to pressure Ethiopia using the UN Security Council failed more than five times as of May. Frustrated by a lack of progress, the State Department decided to take unilateral action to ban the 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 federal government was forced to declare a unilateral ceasefire and withdraw the federal army from the Tigray region.
While this was a golden opportunity for TPLF to push for negotiations after being allowed to recapture control of Tigray, the rebel group instead seized the opportunity to mobilize the civilian population - including child soldiers - of Tigray for war, divert USAID food and resources for the ill-defined conflict effort, and expand a conflict that could have ended in June 2021.
Now, in the second phase of the conflict, the TPLF has invaded the neighboring regions of Afar and Amhara with an ultimate agenda of forcefully overthrowing the federal Government by pushing towards the capital Addis Ababa. Since June, more than one 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 hospitals and churches, and looting food aid warehouses.
Their destruction has gone to the extent of looting religious sites of Lalibela Rock-Hewn, a 12th century church and UNESCO heritage site in the Amhara region. With the knowledge of the TPLF’s oppressive history and current destructive agenda for Ethiopia, the Biden Administration and European nations are still sympathizing with the TPLF. The Ethiopian people are 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.
The U.S. and EU already bear moral responsibility for playing a significant role in bolstering TPLF, a group that led Ethiopia for three decades with tyranny, to now remerge as a new force to create a spiraling, 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 collapse or disintegration, which will no doubt have tragic and far-reaching consequences.