In an address to the press, released by the Prime Minister’s office on June 30th, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy explained why the Ethiopian National Defense Forces had withdrawn from the Tigrayan capital Mekelle earlier this week. In doing so the Prime Minister made a range of startling and new claims about the causes for and the conduct of the war on Tigray which we have briefly summarized as follows.
Cause of War
In an abrupt reversal of previous claims, Prime Minister Abiy said that the war on Tigray had been building up for over two years as a result of the federal government wishing to remove military resources deployed in Tigray. He claimed that this has now been successfully accomplished in preparation for potential other threats.
The Prime Minister reassured allies in the Amhara region, that the military’s incursion into Tigray had reversed the power balance that had existed two years ago. He particularly stressed that the economic, military, and government structure of Tigray – which had been superior before – had been weakened to levels below or at best equal to other regions. At this time, said Abiy Ahmed, Mekelle was no longer the center that it was 7- 8 months ago. It had been decimated to the point it was militarily no more significant than other towns like Abi Addi, Sheraro, or his native Bashasha.
He also noted that the occupation of Tigray or the liberation of Mekelle had never been the aim of the war and counseled the media not to report or amplify the “psychological warfare” of the enemy that would suggest otherwise. He said that his army will continue to occupy strategic areas and that it has the capacity to repel any advances.
Why the Ethiopian National Defense Forces Fled Mekelle
In detailing the rationale for why his forces fled from Mekelle, the PM cited more pressing issues including the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam and economic pressures as primary drivers. He suggested that there were external efforts intent on derailing the dam and raised demands for Ethiopia to repatriate 50K citizens in the middle east, as an example. Economically, he said that the Ethiopian government had spent more than 100 billion Ethiopian birr on Tigray, excluding military expenses, to provide basic services. He lamented the fact the Ethiopian government had received little thanks for this largesse from international donors demanding more access and delivery of aid.
The Prime Minister in his briefing said that after having defeated Tigrayan combatants in a conventional war in 2 weeks and having taken the upper hand in guerilla warfare with technological assistance his army was undermined by the popular nature of the war. He claimed that his soldiers were attacked repeatedly by civilians and hostile communities. This, he said had become a culture. He noted that even the extensive Ethiopian forces in Mekelle ( 20,000 plus soldiers) sensed the hostility and claimed to have seen priests with guns and microphones telling people to go to war.
Abiy also claimed that graves being dug to bury the dead were in actuality hidden weapons stashes. According to the PM, the ‘Woyane’ (Tigrayan forces) were also replicating practices they had previously used against the Dergue by raiding military convoys to rearm and restock. He added that people were registering multiple extra beneficiaries per household for aid so they could provide support to the Tigrayan forces he refers to as the ‘Junta’. On the other hand, the Tigrayan public was unwilling to cooperate with or give any support to the Ethiopian military as was seen in the jubilation in Adigrat and Mekelle by what the PM claims were junta forces that had been hiding and bidding their time. In this context, he said, asking the army to stay any longer in a place where it had no support was unproductive and potentially dangerous.
With this in mind, said Aby his government felt it wise to learn from history including from the war for Eritrean independence, and to cut its losses. Therefore, he concluded, the decision leave Tigrayans to their own devices for a “time of reflection” by withdrawing the military to a less hostile location.