Ethiopian forces have broken the last line of defense for the Tigrayan militia whose rejection of the government’s writ, defiance to hold illegal elections and its attack on an army base plunged this populous Horn of Africa nation into a bloody 25-day-old war that killed thousands of combatants and rendered tens of thousands refugees in Sudan.
“The federal government is now fully in control of the city of Mekelle,” said Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in a statement on Saturday. “With the full command of the regional capital, this marks the completion of the ENDF’s last phase.” ENDF is short for Ethiopian National Defense Force.
Abiy said the federal police had launched a manhunt to find TPLF “criminals” to bring them to justice.
The relatively quick end to the war, which Addis Ababa dubbed a “law enforcement operation,” drew hearty cheers from Ethiopians and the citizens of the region, dispelled fears of a protracted conflict and put the lie to concerns that the hostility between the well-armed forces of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front and the Ethiopian army could spread to other nations in the region.
The capture of Mekelle represents an enormous setback for TPLF leaders, who may have been mulling a future in which they can return to power in Ethiopia or at least enjoy their loot inside or even outside the country.
Prime Minister Abiy has repeatedly rejected calls to sit down with TPLF leaders, whom he called “criminals.”
“Thanks so much for your unspeakable resilience despite of huge pressure from international communities. Once again we salute our hero #NDF,” tweeted Ethiopian Dawit Djote.
Although some TPLF hardliners may opt to adopt asymmetric warfare, yet it’s unlikely that they could get enthusiastic recruits among Tigrayans, most of whom subsist on rain-fed agriculture.
Despite being a minority in Ethiopia, Tigrayans dominated politics, security and economy in the country for 27-years, brutalized Ethiopians and invaded Somalia, where Ethiopian forces under a TPLF command committed war crimes. A TPLF-led administration also went to war with Eritrea.
Former Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn congratulated Abiy and his entire government for the victory.
“Let peace prevail in Ethiopia!!!” he wrote on Twitter.
“I am deeply proud of our National Defense Force,” he tweeted. “Your sacrifice has liberated the people of Tigray. It has created a lasting & enduring political space to pursue the already sweeping reform. Let me say Thank you so much from the bottom of my heart.”
The TPLF’s rout was, too, welcomed by the citizens of the region.
Mohamed Haji Ingiriis, a fellow at the African Leadership Center at King’s College in London lauded the Tigrayan people for “rightly and helpfully siding with Prime Minister Abiy and the rule of law.”
“Good riddance! TPLF was a dark omen that visited upon the region,” Ingiriis said in an interview with MOL. “The group sowed the seeds of Ethiopia’s disintegration, helped introduce clan federalism in Somalia and committed massive human rights abuses in Somalia.
“The region is better off without the TPLF,” said Ingiriis. “Ordinary Tigrayans must be very angry with TPLF gangsters who have pitted them against all the other Ethiopians and even all the other citizens of the Horn of Africa to preserve their own selfish interests.”
Mohammed Hersi, chairman of Kenya Tourism Federation, agreed.
“Well done PM,” he tweeted, responding to Abiy. “It is in our best interest as Eastern Africa that Ethiopia remains stable at all times. We have enough mess already in the region. Restore order and let the people who left return. That move was a precision one to sort out this threat once and for all.”
Another Kenyan, Cyrus Maina wrote: “Congratulations for subduing the rebellion and restoration of the rule of law in Tigray.
“Africa now look up to you to build a stronger, a more cohesive and a prosperous Ethiopia. May God bless the work the work of your hand and accompany all your efforts with victory,” added Maina.
Ethiopia’s army chief Gen. Birhanu Jula said the federal army had freed more than 7,000 members of the Northern Command, who were held hostage in the region, from TPLF forces. The TPLF’s attack on this command triggered the war in the Tigrayan region that killed thousands of combatants, drove tens of thousands of civilians from their homes into Sudan and touched off revenge killings, most notably the massacre in the town of Mai-Kadra in Tigray Region’s Western Zone in which at least 600 civilians were killed.
Prime Minister Abiy appeared well aware of what needs to be done now that the operation has been, in his words, “successfully concluded,”
The critical task ahead, he said, would be to rebuild what has been destroyed, repair what was damaged and return Ethiopian refugees in Sudan to their homes. The government’s “utmost priority” would be normalcy to return to The Tigrayan region, he said.
He thanked Tigrayans who he said “have provided utmost support and cooperation to the Ethiopian National Defense Force in all corners.”
In his statement, Abiy didn’t provide details about how and exactly when the national army actually entered Mekelle, but he said the army undertook “the operation with precision and due care for citizens ensuring civilians are not targeted.”
Abiy said the army had taken control of the city’s airport, headquarters of the regional administration and other public institutions.
He urged “friends of Ethiopia” to help the national government in rebuilding the Tigrayan region, giving its people the “respite, humanitarian assistance and security they deserve.”
“I hope this will tear down the darkness on Ethiopia and the dawn of hope is on the horizon,” tweeted Ethiopian Kumela Tafa. You “have defeated the enemy, now you need to work on winning the war, working on bringing the people on your side. God bless Ethiopia!”