Ethiopian army castaways may expand TPLF’s fight past Mekelle …

Al Jazeera: Ethiopian government says it will launch a ‘final’ assault on Mekelle, but TPLF officials say even the fall of the city will not spell the end of their fight. Holed up in Mekele, after multiple defeats elsewhere, are forces loyal to the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). Barely three weeks since the start of the government’s ground and air offensive, the federal troops have dislodged TPLF forces from nearly every large urban centre in the region, including the towns of Axum and Adwa, as well as Humera in western Tigray and Alamata in the south. A communications blackout has made it hard to verify the information on the ground, but the fighting is estimated to have killed thousands of people and forced some 40,000 to flee for the safety of refugee camps in Sudan, including the survivors of a massacre of hundreds of civilians in the town of Mai Kadra on November 9. But while the Ethiopian military has told residents of the encircled regional capital to “save themselves” in advance of an assault scheduled for Wednesday, warning that “anything can happen”, TPLF officials said that even the fall of Mekelle would not spell the end of their fight. “Our forces still control much of rural Tigray, and our governing structure remains intact in these areas,” said Fesseha Tessema, a TPLF adviser. Seventeen years of armed struggle culminated in the capture of Addis Ababa by TPLF rebels in 1991 and the overthrow of the Communist government of Mengistu Haile Mariam. In 2005, 193 unarmed demonstrators protesting against the results of general elections were shot dead in the capital, Addis Ababa. A few years later, a particularly brutal campaign against rebels in the country’s Somali region left thousands dead or displaced from their homes. But after mass demonstrations forced a change of administration in 2018 and the appointment of Abiy Ahmed as prime minister, the unpopular Tigrayan elites were dismissed from posts at the helm of Ethiopia’s political and security institutions. Long-serving stalwarts of Ethiopia’s military and intelligence, many with years of experience battling fighters in neighbouring Somalia or embedded with United Nations peacekeeping missions in South Sudan, departed to Mekelle. It is believed that in addition to well-trained special forces said to number as many as 250,000, the region has been able to count on a generation’s worth of Ethiopian military castaways, demoted or dismissed after the reshuffle of power since Abiy took office. The likes of Getachew Assefa, Ethiopia’s former Intelligence Service chief, described in a leaked 2009 US cable as being “hawkish and significantly influential,” are believed to be in Mekelle, home to some half-a-million people. This is why the apparent inability thus far of the Tigrayan military leadership to put up a resolute defence against army divisions it trained and commanded for years is somewhat puzzling. “The TPLF made big strategic mistakes,” says Rashid Abdi, a Kenya-based researcher and Horn of Africa analyst. The TPLF can either retreat to the mountains and start a guerilla campaign, surrender, or put up a last stand and lose.” Before the Ethiopian government’s expected assault on the TPLF’s stronghold on Wednesday, rights groups have called for the protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure, warning that deliberate attacks against them “is prohibited under international humanitarian law and constitutes war crimes”. When asked if the government had plans for a post-war Tigray, Abiy’s Press Secretary Billene Seyoum referred Al Jazeera to a recent news conference in which Mulu Nega, who has been appointed as head of the region’s transitional administration, spoke of post-conflict aspirations, including the holding of elections. Despite the battlefield setbacks, some expect a faction of the now-outlawed TPLF could melt back into the mountains of rural Tigray, where the organisation was founded half a century ago. “The TPLF leadership have been softened by power and ease of life.” The entire Tigray region has been put under siege since Abiy announced the start of the military operations in the early hours of November 4, with phone and internet services cut and journalists barred. Hospitals ran out of supplies and banking services were halted, leaving millions unable to withdraw vital funds.

src : aljazeera.com

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