Tens of thousands have been killed and millions are starving and have been displaced in the civil war in northern Ethiopia which passed the one year mark last week. The devastating war began with the attack on an army base of the Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF) by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) on November 4, 2020.
According to Ethiopian diplomat Mohamed Hassan, it was the US security establishment of president-elect Joe Biden that had advised the TPLF to launch this attack.
The former Ethiopian Diplomat and current adviser to the president of Ethiopia’s Somali regional state told Peoples Dispatch in a phone interview that the US and the European Union (EU) are the driving forces behind the TPLF’s war, aimed at bringing down Abiy Ahmed’s government.
Ahmed came to power in 2018 after the TPLF, which had ruled Ethiopia since 1990, was cornered by mass pro-democracy protests. Soon after coming to power, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed released political prisoners, welcomed back political exiles, and lifted the ban on free press and on political parties outside the TPLF-dominated ruling coalition.
His reforms also extended to foreign policy. He signed a peace deal with Eritrea ending the decades-long conflict, for which he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. He followed it up with a Tripartite Agreement, in which Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia declared that the conflict between the three states had been resolved, and their relations had entered a new phase based on cooperation.
This “is not appreciated by the US and EU. They find this is a very bad example”, Hassan said, because “resolution of the antagonism between African states and people” will weaken and eventually collapse the US Africa Command (AFRICOM), which he describes as “Africa’s NATO”.
At the time of these developments, however, the Trump administration, which was in power, was not very interested in this region, and was disengaging. But the return of the old foreign policy establishment to White House with the election of Joe Biden has reversed the aberration of the Trump administration.
The US, Hassan argues, has since been using the TPLF – which had depended on American support throughout its decades of authoritarian rule – to bring down the Ethiopian government and wreck the Tripartite Agreement. However, he maintains, TPLF is losing the war, and has essentially “committed suicide” by taking American counsel.
Expanding the fighting from Tigray into neighboring regional states of Amhara and Afar, the TPLF’s forces have reached 300 kilometers within the reach of capital Addis Ababa, killing, raping and looting all along the way .
However, Hassan maintains, the TPLF is unable to proceed any further because, having stretched too far out from their base in Tigray, they are now surrounded in Wollo province by the Amharic and Afar militias and the ENDF. The frontline, he says, “is tilting in favor of the government.
Read an edited excerpt from the interview below:
Pavan Kulkarni: Reports indicate that the TPLF has made major advances and is threatening to close in on the capital. What is your reading of the situation in Ethiopia?
Mohamed Hassan: The situation in Ethiopia is not as the media makes it to be. The media is using psychological warfare against the people and the government of Dr. Abiy Ahmed. But (in reality) the TPLF’s forces are in a very difficult situation at the moment. They have stretched more than 300 kilometres away from their base area. They are not able to continue because they are encircled. They have lost several areas they had captured. I think they will be decimated in Wollo province (at the juncture of Amhara, Afar and Tigray).
They can’t win; they’re a rag-tag invading force. They do not mobilize people. They have no social project. Everywhere they go, they engage in killing, looting and raping. They are hated by the total population.
PK: Is there any clarity on where the frontline is?
MH: The frontline in Amhara is around 300 kilometers from Addis Ababa and is tilting in favor of the government. They also tried to open another front in Afar, but didn’t succeed. Many areas they had seized have been recaptured.
PK: Media has reported that the TPLF has taken control of Dessie. TPLF also claims to have seized Kombolcha.
MH: In Dessie, the local population, militia and the army are fighting the TPLF. TPLF does not have absolute control of Dessie. On the contrary, they are losing; they are now on the fringes. In Kombolcha also the fight is going on. The western media, of course, will report in a certain way; because this war is in fact a war by external forces. The US and Europe don’t care for Tigrayans, but they are using the TPLF to impose pressure on Abiy Ahmed’s government.
PK: What is it that the US and Europe want to extract from Abiy Ahmed’s government by imposing such pressure?
MH: It is not for extraction anymore; I think they now want to overthrow the government. Because they didn’t like the Tripartite agreement, which was signed in 2018 in (Eritrea’s capital) Asmara between Somalia, Eritrea and Ethiopia. Through this agreement, the three states declared that the conflict among them had been resolved, and that they are going to start a new project for cooperation called The Horn of Africa Project. This resolution of the antagonism between African states and people is not appreciated by the United States and the European Union (EU). They find this is a very bad example because, in the long term, it might weaken and eventually collapse Africa’s NATO, namely the US Africa Command (AFRICOM). This is a problem for Brussels and Washington.
PK: Just ahead of this Tripartite agreement, a Peace Agreement was also signed between Ethiopia and Eritrea ending the decades long-conflict. Given TPLF’s historic animosity towards Eritrea and its opposition to the peace agreement, is it not very likely that the peace deal will also collapse if the TPLF wins the civil war?
MH: Yes, indeed. The peace agreement will also collapse. They will try to isolate Eritrea again and might even want to attack the country. But they don’t have that kind of strength anymore. The TPLF is seriously weakened, its capacity to fight is diminished. The weaker they get, the more they try through the African Union (AU) to form a front with other African countries in the name of African peace and so on. They are also using the (Western) puppets on the continent, including the former president of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo (currently the AU High Representative for the Horn of Africa). In the name of peace talks, they want to bring down Abiy Ahmed’s government.
PK: But when the war first broke out, on November 4, 2020, the then US secretary Mike Pompeo was quick to condemn the TPLF for launching the attack on the ENDF base in Tigray. When TPLF later fired rockets into Eritrea, he had also condemned its “attempt to internationalize the conflict.” The US did seem quite supportive of Abiy’s government until the civil war began. Did its policy towards Ethiopia change subsequently?
MH: There is a difference between the Democrats (now in power) and Donald Trump’s government. The Trump government was disengaging in this region; it was not very interested in this area. It didn’t follow the same political line as (its predecessors). But the Democrats have a long history of deep involvement with the TPLF (since the 1990s when it came to power and ruled Ethiopia till 2018). The TPLF has also been paying individuals in return. Susan Rice and others became wealthier with payments from the TPLF. From Clinton to Obama, and now with Biden, it is the Democrats who have been the lifeline of the TPLF, hoping to fight Eritrea and the idea of Eritrea in the region.
In fact, on November 3, the Democrats, knowing that they would be in office in two months, advised the TPLF to attack the ENDF’s Northern Command base in (Tigray’s capital) Mekele. They were hoping that it could seize 80% of Ethiopian army’s armaments that were stored there and march to Addis Ababa to topple Abiy’s government. But that didn’t succeed and the TPLF is getting crushed.
PK: If I understand you correctly, you are saying that the incoming security establishment of Biden’s administration had advised the TPLF to attack the Ethiopian army base in November 2019, knowing that they would be in White House in two months. That is a very strong statement. Can you possibly substantiate it?
MH: Of course they will not say it openly or write it down. But I don’t think the TPLF could have managed that kind of an operation, killing more than 9,000 Ethiopian soldiers and officers and capturing armaments, unless it had external assurances and advice. The TPLF never had an Ethiopian project. Their project was the Greater Tigray project aimed at seceding from Ethiopia. So the TPLF would not have done this unless some other forces behind were advising it. That is my understanding. I have been studying the TPLF for the last 30 years. I know their behavior.
I think forces within the (then incoming) Democrats assured them of diplomatic cover. They thought it was the appropriate time because it would take two months until the new president came into the White House. They had assumed that the TPLF could finish the job in two months. But the TPLF, by taking their advice, have committed suicide.
PK: In Washington D.C, a signing ceremony was recently held to launch the so-called United Front of Ethiopian Federalist and Confederalist Forces. This anti-government coalition is reported to have nine different groups representing different ethnic regions in Ethiopia. Apart from the TPLF [and, to a smaller degree, the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF)], do any of the other organizations have significant political or military strength?
MH: First of all, these nine individuals who were brought for the signing ceremony suddenly appeared out of nowhere. Nobody knows them. This is the first time they have appeared with these names. Nine cab drivers were brought from the streets, put in a hall and given press coverage. The ceremony was only a psy-op to put pressure on the Ethiopian government. This coalition is a paper-tiger which has no existence in reality.
PK: Are you saying nobody had heard the names of the nine individuals claiming to represent these groups, or are the names of the groups themselves unheard of? You hail from the Somali region, had you never heard of the Somali State Resistance?
MH: Never. The first time I heard it was from this ceremony.
PK: Is the Somali region affected by the war?
MH: Not at all. The regional state is guarding its security and continuing its work normally.
PK: What is the situation in the capital now? The government has called on residents to organize neighborhood defense. The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission has reported mass-arrests of ethnic Tigrayans in Addis Ababa. It seems there is panic, is there?
MH: No. You see, Dessie was taken not mainly by the TPLF’s fighters, but by the 30,000 odd ethnic Tigrayans who reside in the city. They had accumulated weapons. They started attacking the army from behind the frontline, and took over the city with the support of TPLF fighters. The government took measures to ensure such a thing does not happen in Addis Ababa. They have declared an emergency and arrested many, that is true. And they have found stashed weapons, money, forged ID cards and so on.
I don’t think the TPLF can rule the country anymore, but they can cause chaos and trigger panics. Their biggest supporters in doing this are the western embassies and certain African embassies too, like (that of) Zambia, which are moving their diplomats out of Addis Ababa. This is all to impose pressure. This is a war, not led by the TPLF, but by the US and EU against the government in Ethiopia.
If they cannot control a country, they will want to break it and create hate and division amongst its people. But I don’t think it will succeed. The Ethiopian people are united at the moment. They will reverse this onslaught supported by external forces.