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Ethiopia’s Tigray disaster: How a soldier survived an eleven-hour gun combat

Ethiopian soldiers in Tigray, November 2020 - posterised effect
Ethiopian troopers in Tigray, November 2020 – posterised impact

Two Ethiopian troopers have given BBC Afaan Oromoo dramatic accounts of a co-ordinated nighttime-time raid on their camps firstly of the conflict in Tigray last month by using combatants linked to the now-overthrown regional administration.

The Tigray people’s Liberation entrance – which in the past managed the govt within the northern region – spoke of it had performed a pre-emptive strike, when the realm’s attention become focused on the united states election, as it believed that it was about to be attacked by way of federal troops.

leading Minister Abiy Ahmed retaliated by ordering a militia operation which culminated with the overthrow of the local govt, forcing the TPLF to retreat to mountains to fight what it calls “invaders”.

It has been complex to get accurate information in regards to the battle as a result of a verbal exchange blackout within the region.

The debts of the soldiers spotlight ethnic divisions in the Ethiopian defense force, with some Tigrayan soldiers accused of siding with the TPLF.

Short presentational grey line
short presentational gray line

i used to be at a camp near Adigrat city, close the border with Eritrea. At round 23.30 on three November, I, and different soldiers, obtained textual content messages from our comrades at the base in Agula town – about 30km (18 miles) north-east of the Tigray capital, Mekelle – asserting: “we are surrounded. if you can come and rescue us, come.”

now not lengthy thereafter, our camp was additionally surrounded, with hundreds of TPLF particular forces and militias having taken up positions outside. one of the most Tigrayan soldiers – who had left our camp earlier – had been with them.

We went to the colonel who held the important thing to the storeroom where our weapons have been stored. We informed him to open it.

An Ethiopian solider carrying a mattress - November 2020
The disaster in Tigray has printed ethnic divisions within the Ethiopian militia

He refused, asserting he didn’t have orders to accomplish that. He was a Tigrayan, and we suspected he become part of the plan to assault us.

Some soldiers argued with him to open the storeroom; others tried to damage open the door. at last, we got our weapons. The TPLF forces have been already taking pictures via now.

We took up our positions, inner and outside the camp, using rocks, barrels, walls as shields. It was round 01:00 when the battle started.

There become a distance of no more than 50m (164ft) between us and them.

We killed greater than 100 of them. They killed 32 of us. In my unit, one died and 9 have been wounded.

Most of our deaths have been led to by means of the Tigrayan soldiers who had defected to the different facet.

The battle lasted for approximately eleven hours unless noon when our senior commanders ordered us to cease fighting, return our weapons to the storeroom, and to move returned to our rooms. We obeyed.

shortly thereafter the priests and elders of the city came. They negotiated a surrender. At round 16:00, we had been ordered to give up all our army assets to the TPLF forces. again, we obeyed.

Then, we have been informed to assemble our own belongings and made to climb into lorries. We took our wounded with us. We have been pressured to depart the dead in the back of.

‘I gave a false name’

The TPLF forces transported us to one of their bases in the city of Abiy Addi, 150km south-west of Adigrat.


The wounded soldiers acquired no clinical treatment right through this length.

each and every morning there turned into a roll call. We had to give our names, ethnicity and function within the army. I used to provide a false identify.

This become like a barren region area, and it changed into very, very sizzling. We had little water to drink. every morning, we were given tea, with out a sugar, in a plastic water bottle that had been reduce in half. Our meals for the day were two small loaves of bread.

troopers from other bases had been also dropped at Abiy Addi. They advised us they too had been attacked. some of them surrendered with out fighting; others put up greater resistance than us, fighting for four days.

Kalashnikovs, heavy weapons and even brief-latitude rockets had been used in the battle. some of our soldiers fled to Eritrea.

‘Uniforms burned’

After about two weeks, the TPLF forces gave us three alternatives – be a part of them, live in Tigray as civilians or go lower back to our homes. We took the last alternative.

but our senior commanders, radio operators, female troopers and those who could use heavy weaponry were now not given the alternative. They were saved at Abiy Addi, heaps of them.

Sunset lit the empty road crossing the dry land of Gheralta Mountains, aerial view, Hawzen, Tigray Region, Ethiopia
The landscape in Tigray is mountainous

The rest of us had been told to take off our uniforms. We refused, asserting they could kill us but we might no longer do it – that our armed forces code did not enable it; that our uniform turned into our delight.

within the end there changed into an agreement. we might take off our uniforms, and they might all be burnt [so they could not be used by others]. The TPLF recorded the burning on digital camera.

They took our very own belongings – rings, watches, money.

extra on the Tigray disaster:

It was at round 15:00 on a Friday that we have been all made to climb into lorries. once again, we took our wounded with us, but there were none in my lorry.

there were about 500 of us in each lorry, and i’d say about 9,000 troopers in all of the lorries. We sat in the lorries stuffed until we left Abiy Addi at round 23:00.

We travelled for hours on returned roads unless the TPLF special forces – who had been escorting our lorries – dropped us off on the banks of the Tekeze River at the border between Tigray and neighbouring Amhara state.

The lorries got here at diverse instances. we all broke into organizations and crossed the river in boats. About six hours had passed before my group reached the different aspect.

We then walked for about sixteen hours to reach Sekota town in Amhara.

We at the moment are in a police station compound within the city. we are being neatly fed and smartly taken care of. The wounded are being handled in sanatorium, more than three weeks after the attack.

I heard that some of them died on the manner, and their our bodies have been left at the back of.

Short presentational grey line
brief presentational grey line

Corporal Ibrahim Hassan:

I actually have been in the military for approximately eight years. i used to be additionally in Adigrat, but at a further camp. i used to be the shelter on obligation on 3 November, staring at the camp from 22:00 to hour of darkness. one of the vital troopers have been already sleeping.

correct after I finished my shift I heard gunshots. I had no concept what become happening. I went to peer.

TPLF special forces and militia had already surrounded our camp, and that they entered it. Most of us have been unarmed.

A woman by the Tekeze River in Tigray, Ethiopia - archive shot
The Tekeze River marks the border between the Tigray and Amhara areas

They ordered the troopers, together with myself, to give up. We refused, announcing federal troops could not surrender to regional troops. however in the conclusion we agreed on the orders of our seniors, who had been Tigrayans.

We had been saved in the camp except 6 November. The TPLF forces then transported us in lorries to a small city, Idaga Hamus, which is about 26km from where we were. We have been saved there for every week after which taken to Abiy Addi.

There, we found many individuals loyal to the federal govt, from the police, military and air force.

We have been divided into corporations, and stored in three distinctive locations – a militia camp, a working towards faculty and a compound.

There become no water to shower, little water to drink. It turned into as though we had been left to die in that heat.

We slept in small rooms in very stuffed situations.

Then more than three weeks later, we got three options – if we had been married with babies in Tigray, we may reside as civilians, or we could be part of the TPLF or we could leave. Most of us chose the third option.

however radio operators, those that might use heavy weaponry and senior commanders needed to stay at the back of.

‘Jewellery stolen’

i’m a radio operator but I lied about my role so i was able to leave.

My wager is that we left three,000 to 4,000 in the back of, and close to 9,000 of us managed to depart.

We had been put in about 28 lorries and had been pushed for hours, via wasteland areas, until we reached the Tekeze River.

The experience changed into very intricate. Some soldiers fell off the lorries and broke their legs. Others got ill.

An Ethiopian farmer looks after cattle on his farm land close to Adigrat, Ethiopia - 2019
soldiers had been assisting farmers in Tigray battle locusts no longer long earlier than the battle began

however we at the moment are in Sekota.

probably the most troopers resent the indisputable fact that there turned into no rescue operation, however they keep in mind that the condition become complicated.

This turned into an unparalleled attack on the federal army.

troopers who have been at different bases reported that the TPLF forces stole watches and necklaces from lifeless soldiers. They even took their uniforms, and left the our bodies behind naked.

in the eight years i was in Tigray, I certainly not thought this may happen. simply every week previous, we have been helping farmers to harvest their crops and to battle a locust invasion.