Both sides in Ethiopia’s raging internal conflict claimed military successes on Wednesday, creating a muddied picture of fighting even as the government promised it would soon be over.
A communications blackout in the Tigray region, where Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has ordered military operations against the ruling party, has made it difficult to get a clear picture of hostilities that have now entered their third week.
“We’re inflicting heavy defeats on all fronts against the forces that came to attack us,” Tigrayan leader Debretsion Gebremichael said in a statement, referring to federal forces.
“I call upon all the Tigrayan people to go out en masse to drive out the invaders,” he added.
However army chief Berhanu Jula said in a statement of his own that Ethiopia’s army was “winning on all fronts” and that the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) was “in a state of desperation.”
“The TPLF’s plan to drag Ethiopia into civil war and tear it apart has failed. It is currently in a desperate mode as it is surrounded,” Berhanu said.
Abiy, last year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner, announced the military campaign in Tigray on November 4, saying it was in response to TPLF attacks on federal military camps.
It was a dramatic escalation of his long-running feud with the TPLF, an organisation that dominated Ethiopian politics for nearly three decades before Abiy took office in 2018.
Abiy has resisted international pressure to bring about a cessation of hostilities.
He says mediation can only happen when the TPLF is disarmed and its leaders arrested.
On Tuesday Abiy announced that “in the coming days the final law enforcement activities will be done.”
His government later claimed to be marching on the regional capital, Mekele, and to hold the town of Mehoni 125 kilometres (78 miles) to the south.
It also accused the TPLF of destroying four bridges leading into Mekele.
In an interview with German television network DW on Tuesday, Defence Minister Kenea Yadeta said the conflict would end “probably within less than 10 to 15 days.”
But diplomats say it is far from clear federal forces will be able to secure a quick victory.
The TPLF has considerable military assets and an estimated 250,000 troops fighting on mountainous terrain they know well.
Ethiopia’s military is estimated at 150,000 troops, a figure that does not include special forces and militias.