ADDISABABA – Ethiopia launched its second air strike this week on the capital of the northern Tigray region on Wednesday morning, stepping up a campaign to weaken rebellious Tigrayan forces in an almost year-old war.
Tigrai Television, controlled by the region’s Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), said the attack targeted the centre of the city of Mekelle but gave no details of casualties or damage.
It posted photographs of what appeared to be plumes of billowing smoke and said in a statement on Facebook that the strike was at 10:24 a.m. (0724 GMT).
Ethiopia’s government later said the air strike targeted buildings where Tigrayan forces were repairing armament. Those forces said the attack showed the government’s desperation.
“They are desperate on the war front,” said TPLF leader Debretsion Gebremichael. “My interpretation is they are bombing us because they are losing on the ground and it’s their reprisal. The fact that they are bombing shows they don’t care about Tigrayan civilians.”
He spoke to Reuters by satellite phone from an undisclosed location. He said he did not have information on possible casualties.
The two sides have been fighting a war for almost a year that has killed thousands of people and displaced more than 2 million.
Citing an eyewitness to the strike who ran from the area immediately afterwards, a humanitarian source in Mekelle told Reuters the strike hit the compound of a company called Mesfin Industrial Engineering PLC.
The witness told the source that strike caused a blast and a fire is now raging on the compound.
A resident of the city also told Reuters that the strike hit the Mesfin Industrial Engineering PLC.
TPLF leader Debretsion said the strike did not hit the engineering complex, but hit another private company’s compound, but he said he had no further details.
The strike hit around 10:30 a.m., the source said.
The report of a strike comes two days after two air strikes hit the city. Rebellious Tigrayan forces accused the Ethiopian government of launching the strikes. Though a government official initially denied any strikes, state-run media later reported the air force conducted an attack.
The area of the city where Wednesday’s strike occurred is called 05 Kebelle, which is just south of the Messebo Cement Factory, near the location of one of Monday’s strikes.
The news follows intensified fighting in two other Ethiopian regions, where the central government’s military is trying to recover territory taken by the TPLF, which recaptured Mekelle and most of the rest of Tigray several months ago.
In July, the TPLF pushed into the two other regions, Amhara and Afar, and several hundred thousand more people fled their homes, according to United Nations estimates.
On Oct. 11, the TPLF said the Ethiopian military had launched an offensive to try to dislodge the Tigrayan fighters from Amhara, following a barrage of air strikes reported the previous week.
The military said later last week that “they (the TPLF) have opened war on all fronts” and said the military was inflicting heavy casualties.
“The federal air strikes on Mekelle appear to be part of efforts to weaken Tigray’s armed resistance, which has recently made further gains in eastern Amhara region, with fighting ongoing in some areas,” said Will Davison, a senior analyst on Ethiopia at the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, a think-tank.
“Along with superior manpower, control of the skies is one of the few remaining areas of military advantage for the federal government,” Davison said.