MS Risk Blog

Ethiopia Situation update (27 Jan 2022)

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Despite security issues in East Africa centring around common themes and issues, by far the biggest threat to regional peace and stability remains in Ethiopia. This remains true for the end of 2021. There have however been several important shifts in the power dynamic in the ongoing war which has been fought for well over a year.

It is our judgement that several major identifiable factors have contributed to a recent shift in momentum, favouring the Ethiopian National army of the Abiy Ahmed regime (ENDF) in their war with the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).


By mid-November 2021, through a combination of protracted bush fighting and guerrilla tactics, the TPLF had taken (amongst others) two key strategic cities in Afar and Amhara regions. Tactically this this likely provided the TPLF with capability to launch an attack on Addis Ababa. The towns of Dessie and Kombolcha sat either side of the A2 highway. The A2 is the main arterial route between north and south Ethiopia and links Ethiopia with Eritrea and Djibouti. It is and remains vital for fuel, food aid and any movement of troops. Whilst in control of these positions, the TPLF refused to return over two hundred food aid trucks which would have been suitable for troop transport. It is our assessment that these factors increased the threat of the Tigrayan leadership mobilising their forces on Addis Ababa. Until early December the ENDF showed no demonstrable indication they were able to provide effective opposition.

The Current situation

On the 5th of December, both Ethiopian news sources and trusted 3rd party  outlets reported that ENDF had successfully retaken Dessie and Kombolcha from the TPLF. This was later confirmed by the official communication channels of the TPLF, referring to a “strategic repositioning”. In the TPLF retreat several UN food aid depots, local business, dry docks and homes were raided and emptied. These were coupled with widely reported cases of extreme sexual violence and non-judicial executions. After losing these positions, The TPLF were pushed back further into northern territories before losing another key position, the city of Lalibela. The loss of the three positions represented a huge reduction in any pre-established capability of the TPLF following through on their initial plans to capture Adidis Ababa and remove Abiy Ahmed.

As of late January, the TPLF have gone into full retreat and no longer occupy Amhara or Affar regions, with all troops now back inside Tigrayan state borders. The ENDF have been ordered to halt any counter operations and have stopped at the Tigrayan border. It is our best judgement that this provides the first and most significant opportunity for peace talks in a country with millions of people in desperate need of food assistance. Tigrayan Leader Debretsion Gebremicahel has stated his intention to use the change in the power dynamic as a catalyst for diplomatic talks.

Contributing Factors and Key Assessments

Ethiopia has been highly closed off to reporting during the past 14 months, it is however possible to make some assessment as to the nature of the TPLF retreat and defeat. Open Source satellite imagery analysis first reported by Al Jazeera and confirmed by the US state department has shown an airbridge of private charter flights originating in the UAE performing frequent weapons deliveries to Addis Ababa. The jets, which are chartered privately through 3rdparty nations have been confirmed to be carrying Chinese, Iranian and Turkish UAV equipment and weapons. We judge that the timing of these deliveries in relation to the resurgence of the ENDF is likely too significant to ignore.

Further assessment of the nature of the two belligerents likely indicates the lack in TPLF ability to conduct conventional warfare against a standing state force. With years of guerrilla and bush war experience, their capture of the towns pointed to success in rural conflict zones, but an in ability to hold strategic cities so far from their central command and control structure.

As of the ICOD, neither side has commenced meaningful talks, but hostilities on the ground appear to have cooled off. It should be noted that Tigrayan state media and government communications is still reporting daily government drone activity in Tigray. But at this time, it is not possible to fully confirm the validity of these claims.