The war in Ethiopia entered a critical phase, with the Tigray Front rebels declaring their control of two strategic cities north of the capital, Addis Ababa, and their merger with the Oromo Liberation Army rebels.
While the Ethiopian authorities declared a state of emergency throughout the country and called on the residents of Addis Ababa to organize their ranks to defend the city, by taking up arms and defending its neighborhoods.
For its part, the United States recommended its citizens to prepare to leave Ethiopia due to the deteriorating security situation there, as did Kuwait and Qatar.
This reflects the seriousness of the situation in Ethiopia, with the rebels threatening to advance towards Addis Ababa, to overthrow the government of Abiy Ahmed, as they are only a few hundred kilometers away from the capital.
Where the Oromo rebels announced their control of the city of Kimesi (about 320 km north of Addis Ababa) after the Tigray rebels overthrew the strategic cities of Disi (400 km north of Addis Ababa) and Kombolcha (380 km north of Addis Ababa).
What does the fall of Desi and Kombolcha mean?
Dessie is the third-largest city in the Amhara region, with a population of 136 thousand, according to the “World Matters” website, after Bahir Dar (about 170,000 people) and Gondar (about 154 thousand people), and more than 40 percent of its population is Muslim, and the rest Christians.
However, Dessie’s strategic importance lies in its location on the A2 road linking Tigray and Addis Ababa, and it is close to the A1 international road, through which about 95 percent of Ethiopian exports pass to the port of Djibouti.
As for Kombolcha, although it is smaller than Dessie (about 94,000 inhabitants), its strategic importance may in some respects surpass that of Dessie.
Kombolcha (25 km southeast of Dissie) is also located on the A2 road, near the A1 international road, but it has a smaller international airport and an industrial park that has attracted foreign investors from Asia and Europe.
The control of the Tigray rebels over Dessie and Kombolcha means that the eastern region of the Amhara region has become militarily fallen, especially after the Oromo rebels declared their control of Kimisi (south of Kombolcha / 24,000 people), and several small towns on the road leading to Addis Ababa.
And this achieved the coalescence of the Tigrayan rebels with their Oromo allies for the first time since the declaration of their alliance last August, which will multiply the threats to Abiy Ahmed’s government, which declared a state of emergency.
As several small towns east of Amhara have become trapped between the jaws of the Tigrayan rebels from the north and west, and the Oromo rebels from the south and east, as shown by the interactive map of the “Ethiopia Map” account on Twitter.
Therefore, it became difficult for the government forces to launch a counterattack to recover Disi and Kombolcha, but it is expected that they will try to break the siege on their forces in the area, before heading to liberate the two strategic cities.
Tigray militia change their military tactics
Last August, the Tigray rebels opened several fighting fronts to the east, west and south, but the Federal Army’s counterattack halted their advance, and even regained large areas in the Afar region, forcing them to retreat away from the cities of Gondar and Bahir Dar, and even the Federal Army almost recaptured Lalibela.
Last October, the Ethiopian army took advantage of its unchallenged dominance of the battlefield, to launch airstrikes on the “rear bases” of the rebels in the Tigray region.
He also tightened his siege on the region, which is inhabited by about 400,000 people, who are on the verge of starvation, according to reports by humanitarian organizations.
In an attempt to break the siege and move the battle to the other side, the Tigray rebels concentrated their attack on the southern front, instead of fighting on multiple fronts. On October 17, they took control of the town of Washal, and on their way to Dessie fell several small towns and villages.
By the end of October, the rebels reached the outskirts of Dessie and fought fierce battles with the federal forces and the Amharic militias, which took a hit and run character, and both sides struggled to control them.
There were conflicting reports between the rebels’ assertion of their control of Dessie and a government denial, but on November 2, the fall of Dessie was confirmed, especially after the government announced the rebels’ killing of 100 young men in Kombolcha, which means an implicit acknowledgment of Dessie’s fall.
With the Tigrayan rebels coalesced with their Oromo allies, the next goal will be to cut the international road with Djibouti, to allow humanitarian aid from abroad to reach the region.
The Oromo rebels also made no secret of their desire to seize Addis Ababa “within months, if not weeks,” according to Oda Tarbe, a spokesman for the Oromo Liberation Army.
During this period, the rebel alliance is expected to seek to encircle the capital from the north, east, and west as well, where there are torn strongholds of the Oromo army rebels, but it is closest to Addis Ababa.
The Tigrayan and Oromo rebels are no longer separated from Addis Ababa, only the city of Debre Berhan (58,000 inhabitants) and some small towns such as Debre Sina, which may be the next target of the rebels.
Find international support
Abiy Ahmed’s government is in a very critical situation as the Tigrayan rebel coalition advances towards the capital and joins forces with the Oromo Liberation Army.
Although Addis Ababa denied the fall of Dessie and Kombolcha, the declaration of a state of emergency approved by Parliament reflects the difficult situation in the capital.
The government is seeking to recruit more young people who are able to take up arms to confront the advance of the rebels, but this tactic, although it achieved some success earlier, thousands of young people with limited combat experience may not be enough to confront the Tigray rebels, who have previously fought a guerrilla war against the regime. Mengistu Haile Mariam (1974-1991) and ruled the country after him for nearly three decades (1991-2018).
Therefore, the Ethiopian army will seek to intensify its air raids against the rebels, especially in the strongholds of their mobilization and ammunition and weapons stores in the north, and cut off their supply lines, which began to extend towards the south for hundreds of kilometers from their stronghold in Meqli.
It is not excluded that Addis Ababa will resort to allying again with Eritrea, to launch a counterattack from the north on the Tigray region, to push the rebels to retreat back and defend their capital, Meigle.
In November 2020, the Eritrean army played an important role in the rapid fall of the Tigray region, in the hands of the government forces and with minimal losses, but today it stands idly by, allowing the Tigray rebels to advance south.
The other scenario is that Addis Ababa uses foreign mercenaries, similar to the Russian Wagner Company, which Abiy Ahmed hinted at, although he publicly rejects it, as he said that his country’s enemies “are trying to impose a scenario on it similar to that experienced by Syria and Libya.”
As Abiy Ahmed may find himself at some point forced to choose between resorting to the use of foreign mercenaries such as Wagner, or establishing alliances with neighboring countries and even regional countries to stop the advance of the rebels, or sitting at the dialogue table with the rebels, and then he will be forced to make painful concessions to reach to peace.