Africa File

A biweekly analysis and assessment of the Salafi-jihadi movement in Africa and related security and political dynamics.   Each edition begins "At a Glance." Country-specific updates follow.

Ethiopia Crisis Update: Eritrean forces present in northern Ethiopia

[Notice: The Critical Threats Project frequently cites sources from foreign domains. All such links are identified with an asterisk (*) for the reader's awareness.]

Eritrean forces have likely joined the conflict in northern Ethiopia’s Tigray regional state. Ethiopian refugees in Sudan have reported seeing Eritrean soldiers in Tigray. Eritrea’s government is aligned with Ethiopia’s federal government and opposes Tigray’s ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which led Ethiopia’s government during the 1998–2000 Ethiopia-Eritrea war. The TPLF has accused Eritrean forces of supporting Ethiopian troops in Tigray, a claim that Ethiopia’s foreign minister denied on November 10. These claims of Eritrean troops in Ethiopia have not been confirmed because internet and phone lines in Tigray remain cut.

The Eritrean government supports the Ethiopian government’s fight against the TPLF. Eritrean media, which the government monitors, has expressed strong support for Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in the current conflict. One Eritrean outlet even *framed the conflict as “good” for Ethiopia and the region. The Eritrean and Ethiopian governments allegedly opposed the Sudanese prime minister’s proposal to hold an emergency summit between the Ethiopian government and Tigray.

Fighting in Tigray is targeting civilians. Amnesty International reported on a massacre of hundreds of Ethiopians on November 9. Witnesses claimed TPLF and Tigray special police forces attacked civilians with knives and machetes after federal and Amhara regional forces defeated the TPLF near the town of Mai-Kadra. The force responsible for the attack is not confirmed.

Ethiopian forces’ withdrawal from Somalia will benefit al Shabaab. Ethiopia’s government is reportedly withdrawing roughly 3,000 troops from Somalia. These troops were deployed bilaterally, not as part of the African Union Mission to Somalia’s Ethiopian contingent. Ethiopian forces’ withdrawal from Somalia create opportunities for al Shabaab to fill security vacuums in central Somalia as it has done in the past.

The Ethiopia crisis is also disrupting the African Union. Abiy’s administration pressured the African Union to sack its security chief, a Tigrayan, on November 11 over alleged disloyalty. The African Union’s headquarters are located in Ethiopia’s capital. Ethiopian pressure on the African Union may draw backlash from regional rivals, notably Kenya and Djibouti.

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