Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has pledged victory, in what state-affiliated media said was his first message after heading to the front line this week to lead government troops in the year-long war against forces from the northern Tigray region.
State media reported on Wednesday that Abiy had arrived at the battlefront to lead a counter-offensive against the Tigrayan forces, handing over regular duties to his deputy.
In a video shown on Friday, the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize winner is seen walking with military personnel while wearing army fatigues.
“We won’t give in until we bury the enemy,” Abiy said in a recorded statement, adding that the army’s morale was high. “What we want to see is an Ethiopia that stands on our sacrifices – either to be Ethiopian or to be Ethiopia,” he added.
He added that the military had secured control of Kassagita and planned to recapture Chifra district and Burka town in Afar region, which neighbours Tigray.
“The enemy doesn’t have the standing to compete with us, we will win,” he said.
The footage was released after the government issued a new order aiming to restrict media reporting of the war, prohibiting the sharing of non-official information on “military-related movements, battlefront results and situations”.
‘No end in sight’
After months of tension, Abiy in November 2020 sent troops to Tigray to remove the region’s governing party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). The TPLF dominated the federal government for nearly three decades until Abiy took office in 2018.
The prime minister promised a swift victory and government forces seized Tigray’s capital, Mekelle, in late November. By June, however, the Tigrayan forces had retaken most of the region and pushed into the neighbouring Amhara and Afar regions.
The Tigrayan forces recently reported major territorial gains, claiming this week to have seized a town just 220km (135 miles) from the capital, Addis Ababa. Much of northern Ethiopia is under a communications blackout and access for journalists is severely restricted, making battlefield claims difficult to verify.
Still, international alarm about the escalating conflict has deepened, with foreign countries urging their citizens to leave as mediation attempts by the United Nations and the United States have so far failed to yield any results.
“In terms of negotiation or ceasefire, there seems to be a growing distance between the two sides,” Samuel Getachew, an independent Ethiopian journalist in Addis Ababa, told Al Jazeera.
“With the conflict ongoing and impacting so many people, there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight. There’s determination from both sides to win it 100 percent.”
The war has killed tens of thousands of people, forced more than two million people from their homes and exacted a huge humanitarian toll. On Friday, the United Nations’ World Food Programme (WFP) said the number of people requiring food aid in the country’s north had surged to more than nine million.
Hundreds of thousands are on the brink of famine as aid workers struggle to deliver urgently-needed supplies to desperate populations in Tigray, Amhara and Afar.
The WFP said the situation had sharply deteriorated in recent months, with an estimated 9.4 million people facing hunger “as a direct result of ongoing conflict”, compared with approximately seven million in September.
“Amhara region – the front lines of the conflict in Ethiopia – has seen the largest jump in numbers with 3.7 million people now in urgent need of humanitarian aid,” WFP said.
“Of the people across northern Ethiopia in need of assistance, more than 80 percent (7.8 million) of them are behind battle lines.”
This week, aid workers were able to distribute food in the Amhara towns of Dessie and Kombolcha for the first time since they were captured by the TPLF nearly a month ago, the WFP said, adding that it was only granted access to its warehouses last week.
Fighting has also damaged more than 500 health facilities in Amhara, the UN’s humanitarian agency OCHA said late on Thursday.
As the war has dragged on, the government has stepped up its use of airpower against the Tigrayan forces – one of the areas where it enjoys a military advantage.
“Yet another drone attack on civilian neighborhood in #Mekelle,” TPLF spokesman Getachew Reda tweeted on Friday. “Desperate moves by a desperate regime teetering on the brink.”
On Friday, the TPLF and a hospital official reported two air raids in Tigray’s capital Mekelle.
Dr Hayelom Kebede, research director at Mekelle’s Ayder Referral Hospital, told the AFP news agency two bombings occurred at 9am and 12:30pm (06:00 and 09:30GMT), with the first one destroying two homes.
“Still waiting for the casualty report,” he said.
Sources told AFP the first attack struck close to the house of a rebel commander and near a hill with an anti-aircraft machine gun.
Abiy’s spokeswoman Billene Seyoum said she had “no information” about any drone attacks in Mekelle.