What needs to be done to Remove TPLF As a National Threat?
Credible Intelligence sources and contacts have confirmed that TPLF has deployed over five army (each army has 30 ,000 combatants) to launch its third round of offensive against Ethiopia. It has organized more 150,000 men and women, mostly ragtag militia, to plunder Amhara and Afar lands and supply the war machinery as it advances towards major towns in Wollo, Gonder, and Afar. Without a doubt all indicators by now prove that the TPLF has used the last several months to conscript all able-bodied residents, train, rearm, reorganize, and stockpile food and fuel. Indeed, they are now stocked with fuel and food that got into Tigray from WFP and USAID, including 570,000 liters of fuel it robbed from WFP warehouse at gunpoint. Credible sources have reported, as recently confirmed by Prime Minister Abiy, that during the 5-months humanitarian truce declared by government of Ethiopia more than few airplanes have landed in Shire with sophisticated weaponry supplied by foreign powers determined to destabilize Ethiopia.
When it planned and launched out the brutal slaughter of 1000s of soldiers and officers of the Northern command during, the initial strategic objective of the TPLF was to march to Addis Ababa and regain power by force. That objective has never shifted and remains the central objective in its subsequent military adventures. TPLF’s objective has always been to regain power and enjoy its repressive dominance over the rest of Ethiopians. But at the current stage, the TPLF has only two options left to survive as a totalitarian political force in Tigray. Either the TPLF must gain significant military victory to force a transitional government with the support and intervention of foreign powers. Or it must use a limited military victory as bargaining power to regain Wolkayit, the areas which it annexed from the former province of Gonder which it demographically reengineered including the massacre of thousands of Amhara of the locality. Both are not tenable options for the government of Ethiopia and short of this the TPLF cannot survive politically.
Now, the TPLF Nazi like war machinery has launched offensives on several fronts in Amhara lands. It is moving fast, using the same human wave offensive supported by deception, psychological warfare, and coordinated media campaigns. They have also employed sleeper cells to create confusion and division within Amhara towns to demoralize the people just as they did in earlier offensives.
So, what needs to be done?
- A country of over 110 million people cannot afford to live under constant threat of war by a rebel group whose leaders have vowed to destroy it if they are unable to return to power and continue as overlords of Ethiopia. TPLF did not launch the offensive to lift “the siege against Tigray” as it claimed. It launched the offensive to get political concession that it would not get through an internationally mediated negotiation. TPLF is only interested in achieving one of two outcomes: To regain power and rule the country as it did before or, if that is not feasible, to create an independent Tigray incorporating vast territories of Amhara. Its pipedream does not end there, it will seek to effect regime change in Eritrea and gain control of the Red Sea and dominate the horn of Africa.
- The peace overtures of the Ethiopian government and the international community have failed. It is also clear that TPLF has no interest in facilitating the delivery of humanitarian aid. Quite to the contrary, it has used humanitarian aid to fuel its war effort. The government of Ethiopia has a legal and moral obligation to free millions of its citizens who are suffering under the tyranny of a rebel group. The leadership of the government must also shed a lingering illusion that a durable peace is attainable with a group that is delusional about itself in relations to them, often with contempt and arrogance towards both the political and military leadership of Ethiopia often reflected in the pronouncement of TPLF’ s leadership. Not only TPLF suffers from arrogance but suffers from a pathology of Tigrayan exceptionalism and a false narrative of Tigray military prowess. Indeed, old habits die hard.
- As the timeless adage has it, you fool me once shame on you; you fool me twice shame on me! First and foremost, Prime Minister Abiy must lead a massive mobilization effort to deal with TPLF for the last time. Ethiopia cannot afford to wait until the TPFL Nazi like machinery captures Dessie and march on to Debre Sena, Noth Shoa like it happened in 2021. Every available resource should be deployed to avert such a scenario. Minimizing the threat akin to the view of political and military leaders after the military withdrawal from Tigray and waiting to take all the necessary measures until the last minute will once again exact a huge cost in human lives and infrastructure to the vulnerable population in the Amhara and Afar regions. We must learn from the mistake committed in 2021 by not mobilizing until several months after a series of major towns and cities in Afar and Amhara regions were ransacked and devastated by the invading and marauding TPLF hordes.
- Therefore, this time around, the Ethiopian Government should step up its effort to mobilize, arm, train, and create well-regulated militia in Amhara and Afar regions to operate as a civil defense force that fights alongside the federal army and reinforce the Amhara special forces and fano. We must arm all vulnerable localities in North Gonder and Wollo, Afar as that is the best way to counter and defeat the TPLF’s human wave of terror, atrocities, and plunder.
- The Ethiopian Air Force should start taking bolder actions targeting TPLF’s war machinery by hunting and destroying training camps, fuel depots, military infrastructure, command posts and specific leaders responsible for planning and executing belligerent actions that claimed countless lives.
- The Federal Army should be prepared to take the offensive to Tigray. Military strategists say the best defense is offense. Ethiopians in Amhara and Afar must never again bear the senseless loss of life, massive rape, destruction, and terror they endured in past two TPLF offensives.
- We need to take the war to the TPLF on all fronts. The strategic goal must be to remove TPLF as a national threat finally. The objective should not be to enter Tigray and place it under the federal force. The population must be empowered to transition to a peaceful coexistence with the rest of Ethiopia, free of the tyranny of TPLF. The government must draw lessons from its past missteps.
- In sum, the goal should be to break the backbones and enablers of TPLF and its war making machinery.
- A massive mobilization and coordination of logistics is essential, and the government should ask the public to take part in the war effort in every way possible.
- The government must improve its intelligence capability, particularly as it relates to elements that supply support to TPLF in various Amhara and Afar regions. What was the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) doing when IDPs were in Wollo? TPLF deployed them in taking over Kobo. This is because the Intelligence and security agency did not collect intelligence within the IDPS, recruit, carefully watch, analyze, and prepare threat assessment and preparedness for all scenarios. This serious threat was not taken seriously, and work not done.
We can say in fact most security challenges in the county are due to the lack of capabilities for strategic intelligence, analysis, and robust operations. Since the reformist government came to power in 2018, NISS is now led by former INSA people with technical and electronic intelligence capabilities. But not when it comes to the requisite strategic intelligence and analysis capabilities. For 27 years the NISS was dominated by TPLF operatives, as the PM himself said it ran like “a family house” not an institution. Therefore, it is quite understandable that 4 years are not sufficient to build a very robust Intelligence and security agency that can mitigate threats in proportion to the plethora of threats within and without.
- Immediate steps must be taken to fill the gaps and build a robust institution capable of employing human intelligence and conducting intelligence assessment and analysis and supply strategic intelligence. Technological capability and technical intel are not a replacement to the other capabilities. Recent experience of great powers’ humiliating withdrawal from Afghanistan despite their superior technical abilities to collect intelligence should serve as a lesson. There are many capable Ethiopians with depth experience who can assist the government. It is time to invite them to help. The insecurity and fear seen by NISS officials by not inviting former intelligence professionals to support them even during the most serious threat Ethiopia faced shall await another time, as this is not the moment to dwell on postmortem. In contrast, the ENDF which took advise from many directions serious was able to deploy, however, limited, the vast resources of the former armed forces officers and non -commissioned officers to serve , at various capacities and places, in providing military training, technical skills, and military advice during the most serious threat TPLF posed in 2021 and as well as to the effort underway to build a highly disciplined and professional defense force of Ethiopia.
- The government must consider entering a formal strategic military alliance with the State of Eritrea, conduct joint military training and begin to draft a framework for regional security that includes other neighboring states. The Ethiopian Government has allowed TPLF to set the political agenda of each day repeatedly. It must pre-plan and set agendas and frame issues in advance for domestic and international advocacy and public debate. Again, there is a wealth of knowledge and expertise among Ethiopians in the diaspora and many unused experience and skills within the country who can assist in this regard. The government should take advantage of these vast human resources and capabilities.
- Ethiopian Ambassadors, deputies, and diplomats numbered in hundreds around the world must prove that they have learned from the darkest days of Nov 2020 and later months. As everyone recalls our diplomatic missions, with few exceptions, were in disarray and lacked robust engagement both on international media and social media to stand for and articulate what happened and debunk the global onslaught against Ethiopia.
- Therefore, they must be active on all fronts including social media. At this stage only few Ambassadors and diplomats are visible actively engaged in setting the tone, debunking false narratives, and articulating Ethiopia’s narratives in social and international media. A repeat of 2020, lack of robust engagement and offensive diplomatic and narrative is unacceptable. Ethiopia’s diplomatic missions must not continue to be places for retirement and diplomats who do not have the requisite capabilities, confidence, and competence to serve the national interest. Just remain staffed with lame ducks earning salary and benefits from the hard-earned foreign currency of Ethiopia as the foreign and diplomatic services became during the TPLF dominated government pre – 2018.
- TPLF is a threat to Ethiopians who long for peace, democracy, equality, and freedom. TPLF poses an existential threat to our country, Ethiopia. The government must actively and aggressively dispel the wrong perception that TPLF is weakened and therefore it is not a major threat.
- Ethiopians in the country and diaspora must stand in unison regardless of political differences. There has been an active campaign to divide and disunite Ethiopians. Our national unity and survival are beyond partisan politics. Grievances of one kind or another kind must not be a pretext not to rally behind the defense forces, regional forces, and militia of Amhara and Afar regions.
I conclude by reiterating the following points for the government’s consideration. Opening multiple fronts into Tigray; sustained drone and plane attacks against military targets including the leaders; reconsidering the conditions of for negotiations and improving public relations to all stakeholders.
Neamin Zeleke is a longtime advocate of democracy and a former leading member of a major Ethiopian opposition group. He lives in VA, USA.
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