Ethiopia’s prime minister on Friday said his government has carried out airstrikes against the forces of the country’s well-armed Tigray region, asserting that strikes in multiple locations “completely destroyed rockets and other heavy weapons” and made it impossible for a retaliatory attack.
Abiy Ahmed’s evening announcement marked another escalation in clashes this week that experts say could slide one of Africa’s most powerful and populous countries into civil war.
There was no mention of casualties in what Abiy called the “first round of operation” against the region’s government, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front. He said the air force destroyed heavy weapons in Tigray’s capital, Mekele, and surrounding areas, alleging the TPLF “has the desire to use them.”
The operation will continue, Abiy said, “until the junta is made accountable by law.”
There was no immediate response from the Tigray government, while the region is increasingly boxed in by movement restrictions and a six-month state of emergency imposed by the federal government.
Hours earlier, the prime minister defended the military operations that were launched early Wednesday after Abiy accused the Tigray government of a deadly attack on a military base. He asserted that months of patiently trying to resolve differences with the regional government have failed because of the leadership’s “criminal hubris and intransigence.”
And with that, the prime minister appeared to close the door on dialogue, which some experts and diplomats say is desperately needed.
He asserted that the “large-scale law enforcement operation” has “clear, limited and achievable objectives: to restore the rule of law and the constitutional order.”
The prime minister, who won the Nobel Peace Prize last year for his sweeping political reforms, faces his greatest test as the TPLF, which dominated Ethiopia’s government before he took office in 2018, has pushed back while feeling marginalized.
The northern Tigray region is increasingly cut off. Ethiopia’s civil aviation authority said airports in Mekele and the regional cities of Shire, Axum, and Humera were closed. In Sudan, the acting governor of Kassala province said its border with northern Ethiopia has closed “until further notice” due to the tensions, the Sudan News Agency reported.