In a dramatic reversal, Tigray rebels are now on the offensive after recapturing their state’s capital in northern Ethiopia. To illustrate the current situation, PolGeoNow is again honored to feature a territorial control map created by our colleague Daniel from Passport Party. Also included is a timeline of events since the previous update in February.
Source: Political Geography Now
August 10, 2021
Ethiopia Conflict: Updated Control Map
Since our previous Tigray conflict article in February, the war in Ethiopia’s Tigray state has undergone a major shift. Where just months ago the Tigrayan rebels fighting in the name of the former TPLF state government had been reduced to a guerilla forces striking from the hills, they’ve now recaptured the state capital and continue to advance even beyond the state’s borders in a show of strength against the Ethiopian federal government. Though many details of the situation on the ground are still fuzzy, Daniel’s latest map – a specially-made update to one published on his Passport Party Twitter account last month – approximates the current lines of control in early August.
Tigray Conflict: Timeline of Events Since February
The following is a timeline of major events reported by news media and humanitarian organizations since our previous Tigray map feature of February 3, 2021. The timeline has been compiled by PolGeoNow’s in-house conflict tracker, Djordje Djukic, and does not necessarily represent the judgments of Daniel from Passport Party. Sources are indicated by in-line links within the text.
A number of massacres were reportedly committed by Ethiopian and Eritrean forces in Tigray.
February 2, 2021
Tigrayan opposition parties claimed that more than 52,000 civilians had been killed since the start of the conflict.
February 4, 2021
According to the UN’s chief coordinator of humanitarian efforts, up to 40 percent of Tigray was outside the direct control of Ethiopian federal forces. Instead, much of the area was held by the allied Eritrean military.
February 11-15, 2021
After a four-day battle, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) captured three towns 40 kilometers away from Adwa, in central Tigray. It was reported by several sources that 2,000 Eritrean soldiers had been killed in the battle for one of the towns. In fighting at one of the other two, the TPLF claimed that 1,579 Ethiopian soldiers were killed, 500 injured, and 104 captured, while reports said a brigade of Ethiopia’s 11th division was “destroyed” and the 32nd division was “annihilated”.
More massacres by Ethiopian and Eritrean forces were reported, including the killing of 250 civilians near Humera by the Sudanese border and more than 100 near Shire in central Tigray.
March 23, 2021
The Ethiopian prime minister acknowledged for the first time that Eritrean troops were present in Tigray.
Massacres by Ethiopian and Eritrean forces continued, including the killings of more than 200 civilians between Shire and Aksum and more than 300 in three villages around Aksum.
April 2, 2021
Researchers studying the war in Tigray identified 1,900 people killed in more than 150 massacres, with alleged perpetrators from both sides.
April 4, 2021
The Ethiopian prime minister said Ethiopia was fighting a “difficult and tiresome” guerrilla war in the Tigray region.
April 17, 2021
Eritrea confirmed for the first time that its troops were taking part in the conflict in Tigray.
April 30, 2021
It was reported that the Tigray Defense Forces (TDF) rebel group, along with village-level “popular resistance”, were the main Tigrayan military organization opposing the Ethiopian government since the collapse of the TPLF proper after the federal government’s military takeover.
May 13, 2021
The United Nations confirmed that the Ethiopian and Eritrean militaries were preventing aid deliveries to Tigray.
June 3, 2021
Eritrean forces started a withdrawal from Tigray after a request by the Ethiopian government.
June 17-19, 2021
Following advances by the Ethiopian military, the TDF launched a large-scale offensive, code-named “Operation Alula”, three days before the Ethiopian general election. In one battle, 3,700 soldiers of the Ethiopian army’s 11th division engaged the rebels and after three days of fighting, 100 soldiers had been killed and 900 captured, including the government troops’ commanding officer.
June 21-22, 2021
The TDF temporarily captured Adigrat and Wukro in northeastern Tigray. The next day, it was reported that the TDF defeated Ethiopian and Eritrean troops in many areas from Abiy Addi to state capital Mekelle, reaching the outskirts of the capital city and surrounding it on three sides. In one town it seized, the TDF requested help from the ICRC to feed government soldiers who had been taken prisoner during its advances, saying there were “far too many” for it to take care of on its own. During the fighting in the region, a government airstrike on a busy market left 64 people dead.
June 23, 2021
TPLF-aligned forces shot down an Ethiopian Air Force C-130 Hercules military transport plane.
June 28, 2021
The TDF captured Tigray state capital Mekelle, leading to street celebrations in the city, while the Ethiopian government declared a unilateral ceasefire. The recapture of Mekelle was described as a turning point in the war.
The extent of the Ethiopian military’s losses from the eight months of fighting remained unclear, although Alex de Waal, executive director of the World Peace Foundation of Boston, said that of 20 Ethiopian federal army divisions, “seven have been completely destroyed, three are in a shambles”. In an earlier report, de Waal had said that eight divisions were annihilated during the TDF’s “Operation Alula”, with the Ethiopian army losing about half its troops. A former head of the INSA, Ethiopia’s intelligence agency, said two thirds of Ethiopia’s forces, amounting to around seven divisions, had been killed, wounded or captured within one week of the start of “Operation Alula”. The TDF claimed that 28,300 Ethiopian soldiers had been killed and 6,011 captured during its recent operations.
June 30, 2021
Following the capture of Mekelle, the rebels continued to advance west and north of the city, capturing Adigrat near the Eritrean border. They also captured Shire in central Tigray after Eritrean forces abandoned the city. The Eritrean military also withdrew from nearby Aksum and Adwa. Shiraro, farther to the west, was seized without a fight by the rebels after Ethiopian federal forces retreated from the town. Meanwhile, the interim head of one area of Tigray reported that 440 people had been killed and 125 had died of starvation in the previous seven months.
July 1, 2021
A bridge over the Tekeze river (not labeled on map), crucial to delivering food to much of Tigray, was destroyed. It was unclear who had destroyed the bridge, which was located on a main supply route linking western Tigray – occupied by pro-federal Amhara state forces – with the rest of the state.
July 2, 2021
Around 7,000 captured Ethiopian soldiers were paraded through Mekelle.
July 5, 2021
A report by researchers from Ghent University in Belgium said that 2,805 civilian deaths in the conflict were fully documented, while an additional 9,642 reported civilian deaths had occurred in 245 massacres between November 2020 and June 2021. Almost all the killings were said to have been perpetrated by the Ethiopian or Eritrean militaries or pro-federal militias.
July 6, 2021
Tigray’s forces were mobilizing to retake western Tigray from pro-government Amhara militias.
July 12, 2021
The TDF launched a push to the south, capturing most of the southern part of the state, including the towns of Korem and Alamata.
July 13, 2021
The TDF captured Mai Tsebri, midway along Tigray’s southern boundary with Amhara state.
July 16, 2021
Three Ethiopian regions sent soldiers to reinforce the national military and Amhara’s troops in their fight against the Tigrayan rebels.
July 17, 2021
The TDF released around 1,000 captured Ethiopian soldiers.
July 18, 2021
The UN World Food Programme (WFP) suspended aid deliveries to Tigray after a 10-vehicle convoy was attacked in neighboring Afar state, reportedly by a pro-government militia.
July 19, 2021
According to Dedebit Media, some 608 Amhara fighters were killed and over 750 injured in fighting with the TDF on the border of Tigray and Amhara states near Mai Tsebri.
July 19-23, 2021
The TDF mounted attacks into neighboring Afar state to the east. By July 22, three districts of Afar had been seized by the TDF, and it was reported that the Ethiopian 23rd division had been destroyed, while the operational commander of the Ethiopian military’s Eastern Command, Colonel Awel Yassin, had been captured. The target of the attack on Afar was reportedly the highway linking Ethiopia with the country of Djibouti (off map to east), with the TDF said to be quickly advancing towards the town of Mile on the highway (off map to east of Chercher). In response, Djibouti sent troops to its border with Ethiopia. More than 20 civilians were killed in the fighting in Afar, with some 70,000 displaced.
July 23, 2021
The TDF captured the town of Qobo (Kobo), southeast of Tigray in Amhara state, and were advancing towards Weldiya, the capital of one of Amhara’s ten administrative zones (off map to south of Qobo), and to a town north of Debark. In addition, the TDF was reportedly successful in its operations on the road from Chercher towards Mile. It was reported that four Ethiopian federal divisions, including police forces, were defeated. Meanwhile, civilians were reportedly being killed in the northwestern town of Humera by the federal military and Amhara militia in retaliation for the TDF’s advances.
July 26, 2021
It was reported the TDF captured Debark, the capital of Amhara’s North Gondar Zone south of central Tigray, as well as Weldiya (off map to south of Qobo) the capital of the North Wollo Zone. However, both were confirmed to still be government-controlled several days later.
July 28, 2021
By this date the rebels were reportedly positioned about 102 kilometers north of Gondar, one of Amhara’s largest cities. Meanwhile, food was starting to run out in Tigray, as aid delivery routes were still closed following the attack on the WFP convoy. The last delivery had been made on July 12. Contrary to assertions by the Ethiopian federal government that there was no hunger in Tigray and that the aid disruption was due to the Tigrayan rebels, a senior USAID official stated that the Ethiopian government was responsible.
July 29, 2021
It was reported that fighting was taking place on three different fronts.
July 30-31, 2021
The rebels made a number of advances in the Amhara region, including towards Weldiya (off map to south of Qobo) and to within around 80 kilometers of Gondar. Their advances were said to be fast due to facing only weak resistance. The rebels managed to capture the town of Muja and were advancing towards Gashena (both off map to southwest of Qobo). Weldiya was also reportedly surrounded.
August 1, 2021
The TDF reportedly captured the town of Chifra in the Afar region (off map to southeast of Qobo).
August 2, 2021
Around 50 bodies were found floating in the Tekeze River in Sudan (not labelled on map), downstream from the Tigray town of Humera. Some of the dead bore gunshot wounds or had their hands bound. Although it was difficult to identify the dead, some of them had markings indicating they were culturally Tigrayan.
August 3, 2021
According to Dedebit Media, some 200 Ethiopian soldiers surrendered to the TDF.
August 5, 2021
The Tigray rebels captured the town of Lalibela in the Amhara region (off of map to southwest of Qobo). The town is a holy site for millions of Orthodox Christians and a UNESCO world heritage site due to the presence of 13th Century churches hewn from rock. Meanwhile, 175 trucks with humanitarian supplies reached Mekelle.
August 6, 2021
The rebels were reported to have captured Gashena and Hara Gabena (off map to southwest and southeast of Qobo respectively).
August 8-9, 2021
The TDF captured a town in Amhara’s North Wollo Zone and were advancing on another in the South Gondar Zone. The rebels were also said to have consolidated their control around Weldiya and were continuing their advance towards another town, while an Amhara government spokesman stated the following day that heavy fighting was taking place in Weldiya. Meanwhile, UNICEF said it was “extremely alarmed” by reports that more than 200 people, including over 100 children, had been killed in attacks on displaced families in the Afar region on August 5. The Ethiopian government accused the TPLF of being behind the killings – a charge that the TPLF denied.