A confidential United Nations assessment reveals has revealed that Ethiopian national forces are meeting heavy resistance and face a protracted “war of attrition” in the northern region of Tigray.
Paramilitaries and militia deployed by the army are still struggling to clear and secure territory despite officials in Addis Ababa repeatedly claiming that key towns have been secured. Heavily armed regular troops have continued to advance into Tigray as they rush to reach the capital, Mekelle, the assessment says.
The UN document gives the most comprehensive overview so far of the fighting, and will deepen international concerns that the two-week-old conflict threatens to become a long and brutal battle with potential to destabilize the restive Horn of Africa region.
With communications cut to Tigray and journalists banned, Information has been difficult to obtain and confirm. Hundreds, possibly thousands, of people have been killed so far and many more have been displaced.
The UN assessment, interviews and other international aid organisation analyses all suggest any expectation of a rapid and decisive victory is optimistic, and that resistance is likely to stiffen as Tigray troops fall back into mountains east of Mekelle.
Confidential documents seen by Africa24.news indicates continuing combat in areas which Addis Ababa claims are now controlled by government forces, though their authors admit information is hard to verify.
Such key towns include Humera, Dansha, Shiraro, Alamata and Shire.
According to the documents, the Ethiopian army is bypassing main towns to avoid costly urban fighting as they hurry towards Mekelle. But the militia and paramilitaries deployed in their wake are neither as well-equipped nor as disciplined and so are vulnerable to counter-attack.
The TPLF had earlier this week said hardships are part of life in wartime and promised to give Ethiopian troops “hell” on its home turf.
The African Union has announced that it would send a team of mediators to Ethiopia in a bid to resolve the dispute, but few observers see much immediate prospect for peace.
“It is likely that a protracted asymmetric conflict and insurgency would continue even if the EDF are successful in their mission to take Mekelle. This will not necessarily end the conflict. From a humanitarian perspective, the longer the conflict is drawn out, the more severe the crisis will become.” the UN assessment warns.