We need to establish a clear and unequivocal end game for this conflict

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By Belay Seyoum

Since the TPLF attacked the Ethiopian army in November 2020, the conflict has not abated and thousands of people have lost their lives and there has been incalculable damage to schools, hospitals and private property. It will take billions of dollars over several years to repair this damage. A generation of young people will live with the psychological trauma as a consequence of this conflict. Negotiations with the TPLF will neither deliver the peace nor the long-term stability the country needs to purse economic development. When we look at the origins of this conflict, we all know that there was no serious disagreement between the TPLF and the Federal government. TPLF simply did not like the idea of losing power and wanted to regain it by military means.

The Federal government has now ejected TPLF from Amhara and Afar regions, It has, however, decided not to advance into Tigray. What is the endgame for this conflict? A distinction has to be made between military and political victory. The first involves winning a war in the battlefield and creating favorable conditions for political victory. Political victory is the battle to win the peace and managing the transition through reconstruction and reconciliation. In international relations, decisive military victory is the surest way to achieve political victory. However, without a clear understanding of victory, policymakers will either be unable to use force effectively or fail to use it in order to achieve political victory.

Is it possible to say that we have achieved both military and political victory at this time? As regards military victory, the government has soundly defeated and chased away TPLF from Amhara and Afar regions but TPLF is still in control of the Tigray region and mobilizing new recruits to engage in another battle. A military victory has to lead to achievement of operational objectives (destruction of all opponent’s military capabilities so that it is unable to carry on further military adventures) and the surrender of TPLF political and military leadership. Such military victory will provide the government a significant, and acknowledged advantage over the enemy. To be effective, victory also needs to be recognized and accepted by the opponent and should break the will of the enemy as to reduce its resistance to an ineffective level. At this time, TPLF is even denying its defeat and talking of a tactical withdrawal. Nothing short of a TPLF defeat in Tigray and formal surrender (acknowledging defeat) of TPLF leadership will bring about a military victory. This will convince the Ethiopian people that clear military gains have been achieved over the enemy. The people will recognize victory when they see it.

Political victory entails not only defeating the enemy but also attaining the objectives for which the war was waged in the first place. In this context it is defending the country against unprovoked terrorist attacks, and enforcement of law and order. Goals change during the prosecution of a war. At this point, it is also to wrestle popular support away from TPLF in Tigray (winning the hearts and minds of the population in Tigray). Winning the population largely equates to winning the conflict.

Military victory has to be realized in Tigray before political victory is achieved. The absence of a clear military victory in Tigray can create a degree of uncertainty and could lead to different perceptions of conflict in terms of victories or defeats not only in Tigray but also among the rest of the Ethiopian population. International opinion will also be in favor of direct negotiations with the TPLF if the government is unable or unwilling to achieve a quick military victory in order to prevent further loss of lives.

Cordoning off the state and leaving Tigray alone to its fate will not achieve the victory the Ethiopian people badly need at this time. It is difficult to bring about lasting peace in the state and country by isolating and abandoning the Tigray state. First, by doing this, we consolidate the leadership position of the TPLF in Tigray, facilitate its forced recruitment of more young people into the war front creating more instability in Tigray and neighboring states. We also abandon thousands of people who oppose TPLF including the mothers and fathers who are opposing such forced recruitment and abuse. It is a naïve and dangerous suggestion that attempts to conflate the TPLF with the Tigray people. As we leave TPLF to dominate the political and social lives of the people (by abandoning the state), it will not only continue to create more destruction in neighboring states but also prepare for political independence. We should not forget that Tigray is a state within Ethiopia and we have a responsibility to secure peace and stability in the state. The idea of punishing every Tigrayan (total absence of public services) for the sins of TPLF will create more sympathizers for the TPLF. At some point, it will create so much hate and bitterness that it will make it difficult to stop their quest for break up from the union.

The idea that the people of Tigray have to make a choice either to side with the TPLF or the Ethiopian people is a false choice since free choice is based on personal freedoms. The people of Tigray are not in a position to make free choice given the tight grip the terrorist group has on their personal lives and the extent of their dependence on the TPLF for their food rations and other benefits. I believe that the support of the silent majority for TPLF will begin to crumble once the government (along with Tigray opposition) begins to make inroads into Tigray. This includes disarming the TPLF and allowing the people to organize and express themselves. Not advancing into Tigray will mean that a) the people who have been responsible for all these deaths and destruction in the Afar and Amhara regions will not be apprehended to face justice, b) the country will have to prepare for another mobilization since TPLF will not stop its military adventures. With another lease of life it has been given, it will acquire better weapons from its Western supporters to commit more atrocities in neighboring regions. The experience of countries such as Sri Lanka who fought terrorist groups shows that playing fast and loose with conflict and its failure to achieve a decisive military victory over the enemy cost over 100,000 lives and prolonged the war for over 30 years. The absence of a clear military victory will also make it difficult to achieve political victory that leads to lasting peace and reconciliation. Victory will also bring about freedom for the people of Tigray so that they can begin to experience democracy and work with the rest of their compatriots.

A responsible position that will guarantee unity and long-term stability would be:

  1. Entering Tigray (as we did in Somalia) and disarming all forces and residents in the state (using house to house searches if necessary). The Federal government should have the monopoly on the use of force in the state and country. This can be done on a smaller scale by stabilizing a couple of towns at a time. Basic services will be provided to these areas that are free from TPLF control. The army could control entry and exit points into these areas till the entire state is disarmed. Cleared zones will be free of weapons.
  2. Apprehension and prosecution of TPLF civilian and military leadership that are fugitives from justice.
  3. Embedded Journalists: International law and morality claims, such as human rights violations have made war difficult to wage. Domestic and foreign media can be embedded with military units to facilitate objective coverage of operations in the frontlines. This will help show the extraordinary efforts the army takes to protect civilians while fighting criminals and terrorists in the state. It will also shape international public opinion and counter any propaganda about ethnic cleansing or genocide. During the war in Iraq, when the country’s minister of information announced that coalition forces were nowhere near the city, embedded reporters simultaneously reported the taking of key locations. There will be military oversight and ground rules can be established for the embedded media (such as not revealing military plans, strategy or even location).
  4. Resumption of some political activity in Tigray that will lead to democratic elections at a future date.

 

  1. Political victory involves not only enforcing the country’s laws and constitution in Tigray (prosecution of TPLF leadership) but also winning the hearts and minds of the people of Tigray. This is largely based on the active involvement of politicians in Tigray and the government’s ability to control information (control media) to change the TPLF narrative that pits the Tigray people against the rest of the population. Victory can be a force for good. In its absence, the future of peace and economic development in Ethiopia will be at stake. Winston Churchill when asked about victory during WWII stated: “ You ask, what is our aim? I can answer with one word: Victory- victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival”.

 

 

1 Comment

  1. Belay,
    You are right on the money. Great job. Time is of the essence. The ethiopian government forces must move to Tigray ASAP at supersonic speed not only to complete the military victory against TPLF but also as you said to win the political victory by winning the hearts and minds of everyday tigray people whose minds and hearts have been poisoned by TPLF lies, deception and brainwashing since the inception of TPLF in the 1970’s. In addition, due to the dire living condition of the majority ot Tigray people due to lack of electricity, hospitals/medicines, food and shelter, the ethiopian government forces must deploy ASAP humanitarian warriors including doctors, cooks and nurses to give medicine and food to everyday tigray people. This humanitarian action when done in loving and sincere way will in a short span of time change views tigray people have of the ethiopian government and people. Tigray people will stop seeing ethiopian government and people not as their enemy but as their friends and saviors and will start questioning and rejecting TPLF’s view of ethio government and people and overtime realize that their real enemy was the brutal devil worshiping TPLF criminals.
    I agree with your statements below in quotation.

    “At this time, TPLF is even denying its defeat and talking of a tactical withdrawal. Nothing short of a TPLF defeat in Tigray and formal surrender (acknowledging defeat) of TPLF leadership will bring about a military victory. This will convince the Ethiopian people that clear military gains have been achieved over the enemy. The people will recognize victory when they see it.”

    “Political victory entails not only defeating the enemy but also attaining the objectives for which the war was waged in the first place. In this context it is defending the country against unprovoked terrorist attacks, and enforcement of law and order. Goals change during the prosecution of a war. At this point, it is also to wrestle popular support away from TPLF in Tigray (winning the hearts and minds of the population in Tigray). Winning the population largely equates to winning the conflict.”

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