Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Guest Feature: Map of Control in Ethiopia's Tigray Conflict (November 18, 2020)

Today we're featuring a map created by a friend of PolGeoNow, Daniel from Passport Party, roughly illustrating territorial control in the new conflict in Ethiopia's Tigray state. For further updates to this map, follow Passport Party on Twitter.

Tigray control map: Rough illustration of territorial control in Ethiopia's Tigray war as known November 18, 2020, showing areas believed to have been captured by Ethiopian government forces as well as areas occupied along the disputed border with Eritrea.
Rough map of territorial control in Ethiopia's 2020 Tigray conflict, by Daniel of Passport Party (used with permission).

 

Ethiopia Conflict: Tigray Control Map by Passport Party

On November 4, 2020, a new armed conflict broke out between Ethiopia's central government and the government of Tigray, a regional state within Ethiopia. Details since then have been difficult to track down because of a government-imposed communications blackout in the region, and at PolGeoNow we've been too busy so far to create our own control map. 

Fortunately, our friend Daniel from Passport Party has managed to create a rough map his own, drawing from a carefully-curated network of sources with local ties, along with what scant media reports are available. Though Daniel warns that a map like this can't be completely reliable under the circumstances, this is our pick for best of the maps that we've seen.

Daniel has graciously offered us permission to feature the latest version of his map here, and for further map updates on the rapidly-changing situation, you can check the Passport Party Twitter feed. Keep reading for a brief outline of the situation, and for more details on the sources used in creating this map.

Tigray's Disputed Borders

Map of Ethiopia's Tigray state, showing disputed borders with Eritrea and areas contested with other states and parties within Ethiopia.
Map of Tigray state borders, border disputes, and pre-war contested areas. From Passport Party's Tigray borders explainer (used with permission).
Click to see full-size map.

Also of interest to PolGeoNow readers: Tigray state is surrounded by several border disputes, both domestic and international, that have been around since long before the current fighting started. 

The state's northern edge follows the border with Eritrea, home to several disputed territories that are no longer officially claimed by Ethiopia, but were still occupied by its military forces up to the start of the new conflict. Tigray's state leaders still lay claim to those territories, while several southern parts of Tigray are in turn claimed by neighboring Amhara state. 

For a more complete illustration of these territorial issues, see the smaller map at right, which you can find in full size - along with more information about each one - in Daniel's Tigray border conflicts explainer article.


Conflict in Tigray: A Summary of the First Two Weeks

Tigray, a powerful state whose political leaders dominated federal Ethiopia until a few years ago, has been at odds with the Ethiopian government for some time now, with the two sides in a tense political standoff for the last several months. After an alleged attack by Tigray state forces on a federal military base on November 4, the political conflict immediately gave way to a military conflict, with Ethiopian national forces sent in to quash Tigray's defiance. 

Tigray already had battle-hardened state paramilitary forces and state-friendly militias in place before the conflict, and its dominant political party has extensive influence within the Ethiopian military itself. Combined with the fact that Tigray is far from the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa, this led to a situation where much of the state essentially began the conflict under the control of Tigray-state loyalist forces, with the Ethiopian federal military (minus factions that sided with Tigray) fighting to expel the state forces from control. 

Meanwhile, Tigray's forces are boxed in by Eritrea, which now has good relations with Ethiopia but is still an enemy country in the eyes of Tigray's leaders. Both Eritrea and forces from the neighboring state of Amhara (see above) have been accused of entering the fray on the side of the Ethiopian government, with Tigray now left surrounded after apparently losing control of its border with (so far neutral) Sudan. 

The following is a timeline of major events so far in the conflict, compiled by PolGeoNow's in-house conflict tracker, Djordje Djukic, with links to sources:


November 4, 2020
Ethiopian national troops were sent to Tigray state in response to the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), the state's governing political party, allegedly attacking and capturing a military base. The Ethiopian government denied a TPLF claim that the federal military’s Northern Command had defected, and a six-month state of emergency was declared in the region. According to sources later cited by Foreign Policy on both sides of the conflict, about half of the Northern Command did indeed defect to the TPLF, while the other half remained loyal to the federal government.

November 5, 2020
The TPLF reportedly seized most of the weapons stored at the national military's Northern Command Headquarters in state capital Mekelle, while airstrikes were conducted by the Ethiopian Air Force near the city, which was confirmed to be under TPLF control. According to the Ethiopian government, the airstrikes destroyed TPLF rockets and other heavy weapons in Mekelle and surrounding areas.

November 8-9, 2020
More airstrikes were reported in Tigray, while Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed replaced his army chief, the head of intelligence, and the foreign minister. Hundreds were reported dead since the start of the conflict.

November 10-11, 2020
State media reported that the Ethiopian military had captured Humera airport, near the border with Sudan and Eritrea. The next day, Ethiopia claimed more than 550 TPLF fighters had been killed since the start of the fighting.

November 12, 2020
The Ethiopian government claimed to have seized the western part of Tigray, while Amnesty International reported that possibly hundreds of civilians had been massacred in the town of Mai Kadra. According to locals, the killings were conducted by the TPLF after its defeat by the national military, though Amnesty was not able to confirm this.

November 14, 2020
The TPLF launched a cross-border rocket attack on Eritrea’s capital, Asmara. Three rockets were fired, two of which hit Asmara’s airport, according to regional diplomats. However, the US embassy in Asmara said there was no indication the airport had been hit. The TPLF said it conducted the attack in response to Eritrea sending tanks and thousands of troops into Tigray in support of the Ethiopian government’s offensive, though up to this point Eritrea had denied any involvement. The TPLF also claimed Ethiopian forces were using Asmara’s airport.

November 16, 2020
As the military was advancing on Humera and Mekelle, Ethiopia's government claimed its forces captured the town of Alamata near Tigray's southern tip.

November 18, 2020
The Ethiopian military reportedly captured the towns of Shire and Aksum, deep within the central part of Tigray state (though Daniel informs us that some sources soon claimed the TPLF recaptured Shire, and that fighting was apparently ongoing in Aksum). Government forces were also reportedly in control of Mohoni, 125 kilometers south of Mekelle. Meanwhile, between 200 and 300 Ethiopian peacekeepers in Somalia who were from the Tigray region were disarmed to deal with an alleged TPLF infiltration of the force.

 

Additional Sources for the Tigray Control Map

Though PolGeoNow was able cross-check many of the changes in territorial control over the past two weeks using the links from the timeline above, we also interviewed Daniel about his other sources as part of our fact-checking process. Based on private conversations, as well as our experience following his travel and border reporting, we can vouch for Daniel's expertise and dedication to accuracy. In addition to providing us with links and notes relating to several of the events depicted on the map, he also had this to say about additional sources he has used to verify claims and deduce details of the situation not widely documented in international media:

In some cases, photo/video proof has been published by Ethiopian state media. But there are a lot of false claims or premature announcements. Therefore, I rely on sources that are balanced, neutral, and well-informed. Obviously, these sources are not always able to provide updated information. 

Other than international news media and video evidence, Daniel cited the following Twitter accounts at sources. He told us that he especially trusts the professional standards of the first three, whose work he is very familiar with:
  • @RAbdiAnalyst (Analyst from Somalia, balanced views, well informed)
  • @KjetilTronvoll (Norwegian researcher, has spent much time in Ethiopia)
  • @martinplaut (South African journalist based in London, has good sources in the Horn of Africa)
  • @breaking_bre (Anonymous war reporter who appears to be in the region at the moment. His information is balanced, but he does not give insight how he knows about it.)
  • @mapethiopia (Neutral source with informants on the ground)
 

Though the Ethiopian government insists this conflict will be over quickly, it's hard to say whether it might stretch out into a longer civil war. If it does, PolGeoNow plans to eventually produce our own map of territorial control. In the meantime, we're grateful to have Daniel's map.


For further updates to the map, information on new developments in the Tigray conflict, and other interesting political geography content, visit Daniel's Twitter feed and website:


This guest feature article is a non-commercial collaboration between PolGeoNow and Passport Party. PolGeoNow does not accept paid guest posts or any other kind of paid articles or concealed advertising.