Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Ethiopia War Map: Tigray Rebel Advance on Capital & Control Today (Nov. 2021/Jan. 2022)

(There are newer versions of this map available. To see them, view all Ethiopia articles on PolGeoNow.)

As a followup to the three Tigray war maps we've published as guest features from Daniel of Passport Party, PolGeoNow is pleased to present our new in-house map of control in Ethiopia's ongoing civil war. The new map shows Tigray rebel control both today and at its greatest extent last November, while also highlighting a second insurgency by allied rebel group the Oromo Liberation Army.

Ethiopia war map for late 2021 and early 2022, showing Tigray rebel control both at its height in November 2021, extending far down into Amhara state and near national capital Addis Ababa, and at present day (January 24, 2022). Also indicates areas claimed to be controlled by the Oromo Liberation Army in western and central Ethiopia. Colorblind accessible.
Map by Evan Centanni and Djordje Djukic. Terrain data sourced from ViewFinderPanoramas.
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Timeline by Djordje Djukic, with additional reporting by Evan Centanni

Rebel Advance on Addis Ababa - and Subsequent Retreat

In the five months since our previous report on Ethiopia's civil war, Tigray rebels expanded their control far south of their home state's borders, nearly reaching the national capital city of Addis Ababa. However, despite assistance from another Ethiopian rebel group, their gains were eventually reversed, with Ethiopian federal government forces and allies pushing them back within the boundaries of Tigray state. Now, the situation has almost returned to the same place it was when the war began, with Tigray largely controlled by rebels associated with its former state government, while neighboring Amhara state controls its own territory plus a section of western Tigray.

Ethiopian Rebel Groups: TDF, OLA, and More?

Before the outbreak of the current civil war, Ethiopia's Tigray state was under the government-sanctioned rule of the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), a former rebel group that spent 27 years as Ethiopia's dominant political party until it was pushed out in 2018. While the Ethiopian federal government still refers to the Tigrayan rebels as the TPLF - which it now considers an illegal terrorist organization - they're more precisely referred to as the Tigray Defense Forces (TDF). 

The TDF, while closely associated with the remnants of the TPLF proper, is a combination of former Tigray state security forces, defected federal soldiers, local militias, and wartime volunteers from both inside and outside the TPLF party structure. It's this hybrid force that has fought the Ethiopian government since late 2020, at first withdrawing to the countryside before sweeping back into control in mid-2021.

But the TDF isn't the only rebel group aiming for territorial control in Ethiopia - another major player, the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA), has risen in prominence during the TDF's resurgence, battling federal forces across the country's west, center, and south. The OLA, focused on Ethiopia's sprawling Oromia state, is formed from a dissident faction of the former Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), which entered legal politics after a peace deal with the federal government in 2018. 

The OLA, which the Ethiopian government calls "OLF/Shene", claims to have captured dozens of towns and villages in western and southern Oromia over the past six months, though next to none of those claims have been either confirmed or denied by the government or independent journalists. 

While it's clear that the OLA is waging an active insurgency, its claims of territorial control remain unsubstantiated, with those in the western areas seen as more credible than those in central Ethiopia, where the national government seems barely to have registered any threat to the capital city. However, the OLA has also formally allied with the TDF, and did play a supporting role in that group's march toward the capital last November - which the federal government apparently did feel quite threatened by.

There are various other anti-government armed groups in Ethiopia, but none seem to claim any actual territorial control. However, an international news report last April did quote an Ethiopian government-associated agency as saying that Sedal district, in Benishangul-Gumuz state, was "under near full control of an armed group". What armed group that was - and whether or not it's still in control - remains unclear. There are multiple small rebel groups and militias known to operate in the area, while the government has even claimed that the TPLF is actively stirring up insurrection there.

Map Sources

Unlike our previous Tigray reports, which featured maps by our colleague Daniel of Passport Party, the new map featured in this article is a fully in-house production of PolGeoNow - though Daniel has very kindly reviewed the map and contributed some helpful corrections and suggestions prior to publication. Despite the severe lack of information from within Tigray, changes to the front lines in the TDF's battle against the federal government have come to be fairly well-documented through a combination of occasional news reporting and networks of well-informed conflict watchers on Twitter.

Most notable among these is Ethiopia Map (@MapEthiopia), which maintains their own detailed map of control lines, updating it frequently as new information comes in. PolGeoNow normally avoids relying on this kind of informal reporting - and indeed, the statuses of most towns featured on this map have been cross-referenced with other sources. And yet Ethiopia Map has consistently proven itself reliable for keeping up with events as well as estimating lines of control more detailed than what can be deduced from mainstream news reporting.

In the realm of OLA control, the situation is much, much fuzzier - besides occasional reports of battles or human rights violations, there's essentially no information available other than propaganda linked to the rebel group itself. Another amateur mapping project, Oromia Conflict Updates (@OromiaWarUpdate), claims to offer unaffiliated analysis of the OLA's activities, but regularly takes the rebels' own claims at face value without offering much in the way of other perspectives. 

Still, it and the rebels' own press releases at OLA Communiqué, which come across as internally consistent and reasonably plausible, have proven valuable for mapping out at least what the OLA's supporters claim it controls. Ethiopia Map's own illustration of OLA control seems to be based on the same pro-OLA sources, and is admittedly out-of-date, making it not especially useful for mapping the insurgency in Oromia.

Readers will notice than on PolGeoNow's map, we've avoided any substantial endorsement of the OLA's territorial claims, marking only "possible OLA dominance" in the areas alleged to be under the group's control. We've also made liberal use of the "mixed or unclear control" coloring in areas broadly thought to be affected by the insurgency, on the premise that it's impossible to confirm what degree of authority either the OLA or the government hold there, and that it seems plausible neither party can assert full control over the countryside and wilderness (though the towns themselves, when marked in black, are indeed thought to be more or less under full government control).

Timeline of the Ethiopia Conflict (Northern Regions)

The following is a timeline of territorial control changes and other key political and military events in northern Ethiopia since our previous Tigray war report of August 2021 (for earlier events, see the timelines in each of our previous Tigray map reports). OLA rebel activity in southern Ethiopia, not shown on the above map, is excluded from this timeline. Timeline entries citing the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project are indicated by mention of "ACLED" (see footnote for formal citation), and sources for all other entries are provided as in-line links within the text.

Terminology Note: The top-level administrative units of Ethiopia are formally referred to as "regional states". In this report we call them "states" for short, but it is also common to see them called "regions". Meanwhile, the lower-level unit that we call a "district" here is also often called by its Amharic language name, "woreda".

Political map of Ethiopia's regional states
Ethiopia's regional states (click to enlarge), including the recently-added Sidama state. See our Sidama referendum article for map credit and licensing information.
August 10, 2021
On its march south beyond the borders of its home state of Tigray, the rebel Tigray Defense Forces (TDF) captured Weldiya, a major town in Amhara state, and were advancing towards Mersa.

August 11, 2021
The TDF and fellow rebel group the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA), active in Oromia State, announced an alliance to overthrow the federal government, saying they were in discussions with other groups as well.

The OLA had claimed a few days earlier to have captured several towns in its own home turf of western Oromia, including Haroji, Gidami, and Galila, as well as villages west of Fiche, just north of national capital city Addis Ababa.

August 12, 2021
TDF forces captured Mersa.

August 15-19, 2021
Between August 15 and 16, the TDF marched westward from the Weldiya area, capturing four towns in Amhara, including Nefas Mewcha and Sekota, as well as a strategic mountain and an area on the outskirts of Debre Tabor, the capital of Amhara’s South Gondar Zone. In addition, between August 17 and 19, the TDF seized three more towns near Debre Tabor, including Kimir Dingay. Some reports said Debre Tabor itself was also captured, while others only said the TDF was shelling the town.

August 20-23, 2021
The federal military and pro-government Amhara militias launched a counterattack, recapturing Nefas Mewcha, Kimir Dingay, Gashena, and four other towns, while heavy fighting took place around Debre Tabor.

August 22, 2021
The OLA claimed to have recently captured the Fincha Sugar Factory in Oromia, and driven government forces out of a forest just north of Ginchi town near Addis Ababa. ACLED also recorded news reporting from another source saying that the OLA had captured the sugar factory on August 20.

August 30, 2021
The federal military recaptured another town in Amhara, while the TDF once again seized Gashena town after having lost it in the recent government counterattack.

August 31 - September 3, 2021
OLA media claimed that the rebel group captured Sasiga, repelling multiple government counterattacks over the next few days, and that it was also in control of several other towns in Sasiga district. ACLED would record more reports of clashes between government and OLA forces in Sasiga two weeks later.

September 3-9, 2021
Federal forces and pro-government militias recaptured two more towns in Amhara, including Sekota, as well as a district of Afar state north of Chifra. Subsequently, the federal government announced that Tigrayan forces had been defeated in Afar and withdrawn from the state, while according to the rebels they had redeployed their forces from Afar to Amhara for an upcoming offensive.

September 5, 2021
The TDF claimed 3,073 federal soldiers had been killed and 4,473 injured in the recent clashes in Afar and Amhara states, while the federal military claimed that more than 5,600 rebels had been killed, 2,300 wounded, and 2,000 captured. According to the TDF, the federal military had lost eight divisions, while the military claimed that one rebel division had been "completely decimated" while trying to capture the town of Humera in western Tigray.

September 8, 2021
Doctors and local officials accused Tigrayan forces of killing between 120 and 125 civilians in a village in Amhara state - an accusation that the rebels denied.

September 12, 2021
Pro-federal forces recaptured two more areas in Amhara, completing the reversal of all the TDF’s gains from its attempted advance on Debre Tabor the previous month.

September 13, 2021
The TDF once again seized Sekota. Around the same time, the rebel group claimed to have captured a town southeast of Mersa.

September 15, 2021
Pro-government militi as captured the strategic heights east of Qobo town, north of Weldiya.

September 24, 2021
The TDF captured a town north of Sekota, while also claiming to have seized two other towns in Amhara state.

October 8, 2021
The federal military intensified airstrikes against the TDF in preparation for a ground offensive.

October 11-13, 2021
The Ethiopian military launched an offensive against the TDF on all fronts. Federal government supporters dubbed it the “final offensive”. As of October 13, related fighting in Amhara and Afar states was intensifying.

October 16-19, 2021
A federal attack towards Mersa was repelled, with the TDF counterattacking and seizing some territory in the mountains south of the town. Two days later, the TDF captured two more towns in Amhara state before a government counterattack retook one of them. Meanwhile, heavy back-and-forth fighting was taking place around Gashena to the west. Fighting was also ongoing in parts of Afar state.

October 18-20, 2021
The Ethiopian air force reportedly conducted two air strikes on rebel-controlled Tigray state capital Mekelle, leaving three civilians dead. Two days later, two more airstrikes were carried out in Mekelle.

October 20, 2021
By this point, some non-OLA sources were reporting that the OLA was indeed in control of much of western Oromia state, in the region stretching from Nekemte and its surroundings to the Sudanese border.

October 22, 2021
The TDF paraded more than 400 recently-captured government troops through Mekelle.

October 24, 2021
The Ethiopian air force conducted airstrikes on alleged Tigrayan rebel positions in Adwa and Mai Tsebri towns of Tigray state.

October 28, 2021
The Ethiopian air force conducted an airstrike on Mekelle, killing 10 people, including children. The TDF reported that a “civilian residence" was struck, while the federal government said it had hit a weapons factory.

October 30-31, 2021
The TDF expanded south again and captured Dessie, one of the largest towns in Amhara state, and was advancing on neighboring Kombolcha. The next day, its forces reportedly captured Kombolcha as well, while fighting for Dessie was renewed. The federal government would accuse the TDF of killing 100 youths in Kombolcha - a claim denied by the TDF.

Meanwhile, the OLA, having sent fighters into Amhara to support the TDF offensive, said it had seized the town of Kemise, some 50 kilometers (30 miles) south of Kombolcha. The TDF said that it was intent on linking up with the OLA.

Flag of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia as of 2020. Three horizontal bars of green, yellow, and red, with Ethiopian National Emblem, a golden pentagram in a blue circle, at center. Country Name:  
• Ethiopia (English)
Ītyōṗṗyā (Amharic)
Itoophiyaa (Oromo)
Itoobiya (Somali)
Ítiyop'iya (Tigrinya)
Ityoppiah (Afar)
Official Name:  
• Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (English)
Ye-Ītyōṗṗyā Fēdēralawī Dēmokirasīyawī Rīpebilīk (Amharic)
Rippabliikii Federaalawaa Dimokraatawaa Itiyoophiyaa (Oromo)
Jamhuuriyadda Dimuqraadiga Federaalka Itoobiya (Somali)
Nay-Ítiyop'iya Fēdēralawī Dēmokirasīyawī Rīpebilīki (Tigrinya)
Ityoppiah Federalih Demokrasih Ummuno (Afar)
Capital: Addis Ababa
November 1, 2021
The BBC reported that the OLA claimed to have captured “several towns in western, central and southern Oromia”, encountering little resistance as government forces retreated. Specific claims published on an OLA propaganda website included the capture of the district that includes Arjo, south of Nekemte, as well as the stretch of road running east from Nekemte to Bako (though later claims would imply that government convoys were still using the road) and two towns north of Gidami.

November 1-4, 2021
The TDF and the OLA linked up south of Kombolcha, while the TDF also advanced into Afar state. The next day, the Ethiopian government declared a state of emergency and urged citizens to arm themselves as the rebels made gains and were considering an advance on national capital Addis Ababa. The capture of Dessie and Kombolcha by the TDF was confirmed, and according to a United Nations official the group was also advancing south of Kombolcha.

By November 3, the TDF and OLA were fighting to capture territory around the town of Kemise and on November 4, they reportedly seized the town together.

November 5, 2021
The TDF captured another area south of Dessie, as well as two villages west of the town. Fighting was also taking place in two other areas to the town’s south.

Meanwhile, the TDF, OLA, and seven other groups based elsewhere in Ethiopia formed an alliance against federal Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed to seek either a negotiated solution or the overthrow of Abiy’s government. The alliance, which the federal government derided as a “publicity stunt” including many groups with little power, called itself the United Front of Ethiopian Federalist and Confederalist Forces.

November 6, 2021
Closer to Addis Ababa, OLA media claimed that Ejere and another town to its northwest were the only remaining parts of their district that the federal military hadn’t been driven out from. The report also claimed OLA control over all but a single town in each of several surrounding districts, including the one to the north of Ejera and several to the west and south, with Abuna being one of the acknowledged remaining government outposts.

November 14, 2021
Reports said the TDF and the OLA had captured five towns in Amhara state in the previous several days.

November 15, 2021
The number of Tigrayan civilians confirmed to have been killed in the ongoing civil war was reported to have reached 3,080.

November 18, 2021
OLA media claimed the rebel group had driven federal forces out of a town near Ejere, north of Addis Ababa, while also completing its control of districts south of Nekemte and southwest of Gimbi in western Oromia.

November 16-24, 2021
The TDF captured two towns south of Kemise. Fighting was also taking place on the outskirts of Mille in Afar state, along the highway connecting Addis Ababa to the neighboring country of Djibouti, with the route reportedly cut off due to the clashes. By November 20, two more towns had been seized by the TDF, while the rebel group was fighting for control of Shewa Robit, just 220 kilometers (135 miles) north of Addis Ababa.

Meanwhile, new reports said the TDF hadn’t yet reached the Addis Ababa-Djibouti highway. By November 22, the TDF was in control of Shewa Robit, and two more towns had been captured by the rebels by November 24. At this point, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed was reported to have traveled to the frontlines to direct operations against the TDF in person.

November 26 - December 1, 2021
In the beginning of a major turnaround, the federal military recaptured Chifra, Shewa Robit, Lalibela, and four other towns or areas from the TDF.

December 3, 2021
Federal forces reportedly recaptured four more towns along the highway between Shewa Robit and Kemise.

December 6, 2021
The federal military recaptured Dessie, Kombolcha, and Kemise.

December 12, 2021
The TDF once again seized Lalibela without resistance, then also took over Gashena.

December 12-13, 2021
The OLA claimed to score a series of victories against government forces south of Nekemte, extending its control there farther to the east.

December 16, 2021
Tigrayan television reported that airstrikes in Alamata, near the southeastern tip of the state, left 28 people dead.

December 17, 2021
The federal military captured four towns south of Weldiya, including Mersa.

December 18-20, 2021
Federal forces captured 14 more towns, including Weldiya, Gashena, and Qobo. The next day, Lalibela too was once again under pro-federal control. On December 20, Tigrayan forces announced that they would be withdrawing from any remaining areas they still held outside of Tigray state.

December 22, 2021
The federal military captured Sekota in Amhara state, as well as four towns in the south of Tigray state, including Alamata, and was advancing on Korem.

December 23, 2021
Ethiopia’s federal government announced that its military was not going to advance deeper into Tigray state. Meanwhile, an airstrike hit a power substation in Mekelle.

December 24, 2021
The TDF launched an offensive on three fronts, including at Alamata.

December 25-26, 2021
TDF forces captured parts of the town of Abala, just across the state border in Afar. However, by the following day, pro-federal forces were once again in full control of the town.

December 28, 2021
The mayor of Gashena accused the TDF of having killed 53 civilians in the town before withdrawing.

December 31, 2021 - January 1, 2022
The OLA was accused of killing 30 civilians in an attack near Gundo Meskel town, which an anti-OLA news outlet said the rebel group was already in control of by this time, after reporting a rebel march on the town the previous day. The next day, the same outlet reported that the OLA was threatening to cut off the main road linking Addis Ababa to the northern part of the country, and had entered Fiche town.

January 1, 2022
The TDF accused the federal military of killing over 250 Tigrayan civilians in Abala.

January 1-2, 2022
After two days of heavy fighting, the TDF captured Adi Arkay along the border of western Tigray and Amhara state.

January 4, 2022
Alamata was reported to be once again under TDF control as the rebels prepared fortifications in the town, while claims were made that the Tigrayan forces had killed 150 civilians there during the previous days. Elsewhere, a local government official stated that thousands of people had been displaced from Abala by two weeks of TDF shelling. Meanwhile, aid agencies reported that 143 people had been killed and 213 wounded in airstrikes in Tigray state since October 2021.

January 5, 2022
An airstrike on a refugee camp near Mai Tsebri left three Eritreans dead, including two children.

January 6, 2022
Pro-government forces were confirmed to have seized a town east of Alamata.

January 7, 2022
An airstrike on a refugee camp west of Shire in Tigray state, near the border with Eritrea, killed 56 people.

January 10-11, 2022
Another airstrike in Mai Tsebri killed 17 people. The same day, US President Joe Biden raised concerns with Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed regarding civilian casualties from the airstrikes. A day later, another strike south of Mekelle left two more people dead.

January 11-13, 2022
After securing Alamata, the TDF seized four more areas in southern Tigray, on the state border with Amhara, while fighting continued in five nearby localities.

January 17, 2022
With airstrikes, the military managed to dislodge the TDF forces near Abala that were shelling the town.

January 24, 2022
The TDF reportedly captured Abala and a town to its south, while fighting was ongoing in the next district to the north.


Graphic of Ethiopian flag is in the public domain (source). Timeline compiled with the help of the ACLED database: Raleigh, Clionadh, Andrew Linke, Håvard Hegre and Joakim Karlsen. (2010). “Introducing ACLED - Armed Conflict Location and Event Data.” Journal of Peace Research 47(5) 651-660. https://www.acleddata.com/