Foreign Involvement in the War on Tigray

Foreign Involvement in the War on Tigray

To declare the genocidal war on Tigray a “civil war” involving only those within Ethiopia is a gross misunderstanding of reality. A substantial amount of the responsibility for the atrocities committed against Tigrayans during the war lies with non-Ethiopian actors collaborating with Ethiopia, including (but not limited to) China, Eritrea, Iran, Somalia, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). 

Brutal invading military forces, foreign drones, and other weaponry acquired by the Ethiopian federal government have been used to commit genocide against the people of Tigray. The Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF) has not fought a just war in any sense. The Ethiopian government has committed human rights abuses, war crimes, and violations of international law to eradicate Tigrayans with the support of foreign countries and their military personnel, equipment, and intelligence. The genocidal war on Tigray has always been an international affair, considering Eritrea’s involvement in the early planning, preparations, and implementation of a war that has now lasted over a year.

Eritrea’s Involvement 

In 2019, the Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed won the Nobel Peace Prize for “resolving the Ethiopian-Eritrean border conflict” through a “peace pact” with Eritrea’s dictator Isaias Afewerki. It has become increasingly clear that the forged deal was part of a conspiratorial plan between the two countries to invade Tigray and destroy the leaders of Tigray’s elected government, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). The Europe External Programme with Africa (EEPA) reported that Eritrean troops were already beginning their invasion of Tigray in the town of Gerhu-Serenay one day prior to what is considered the official start date of the war, November 4, 2020. There are additional reports of Ethiopian and Eritrean military preparations prior to waging the genocidal war on Tigray, during which Abiy and Isaias shared military intelligence and operational capabilities. There is video footage of Abiy and Isaias visiting their respective countries’ military bases — extremely unusual behavior for the heads of state of two sovereign countries. 

Amid reports of the unlawful presence of Eritrean forces in Tigray, the Ethiopian government fabricated an assortment of statements to deny Eritrean involvement. This denial by the Ethiopian government lasted several months while Eritrean forces occupied Tigray and unleashed an extensive series of vicious human rights abuses and war crimes against the people of Tigray, including destroying infrastructure, extrajudicial and mass executions of civilians, looting property and supplies, and systematic rape. Further, Eritrean troops contributed significantly to the unfolding famine in Tigray by setting ablaze farmlands, destroying farming tools and irrigation systems, and slaughtering livestock in an attempt to systematically starve the people of Tigray.

Finally, after international recognition of undeniable evidence of Eritrean involvement and human rights abuses, the Ethiopian government admitted to the presence of Eritrean troops in Tigray in March 2021, and the Eritrean government agreed to withdraw their forces from the region. However, this action has yet to be fulfilled despite sanctions by the United States and the U.S. Senate unanimously passing a resolution to call for the withdrawal of Eritrean troops from Tigray. Eritrean troops continue to commit atrocities in the Tigray almost one year after the reneged agreement for withdrawal; sometimes these troops wear the Ethiopian military uniform in an attempt to disguise their presence. Their presence within Ethiopian borders has only increased, as Eritrean troops have been reported in other Ethiopian regions, including Afar and Oromia.  

There are also credible reports of Eritrea’s intelligence taking an active role in Ethiopia’s capital, working with the Ethiopian government to identify Tigrayans to send them to concentration camps across Ethiopia and Eritrea. Most recently, after a withdrawal of the Tigray Defense Forces (TDF) from the Afar and Amhara regions in December 2021, there are credible reports of Eritrean forces committing crimes in Tigray on several fronts.

Somalia, Turkey, Iran and many more

In addition to Eritrean involvement in the genocidal war on Tigray, the Ethiopian government under Abiy has internationalized the conflict in several ways. Deadly border clashes and territorial disputes between Ethiopia and Sudan have increased, resulting in tension between the two countries and their allies, compromising the safety of current residents as well as refugees fleeing across the border. In Somalia, the military fighting has spilled over; an outbreak of fighting between African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM) and Ethiopian soldiers attempting to disarm Tigrayan officers resulted in fatalities. Further, the United Nations received information that Somali soldiers who were trained in Eritrea accompanied Eritrean troops crossing into Tigray in allyship with the genocidal forces. An investigation by The Globe and Mail revealed details of atrocities allegedly committed by Somali soldiers backing the Eritrean forces in Tigray. According to Tigray’s interim administration Chief of Staff Gebremeskel Kassa, top Ethiopian officials had knowledge of Somali troops being trained in Eritrea leading up to the war, as a result of a military deal between Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Somalia.

Battlefront developments over the last year have made it clear that the ENDF and its allied forces struggle militarily and therefore consistently rely on foreign military assistance and war crimes amounting to genocide to fight their losing battle. For example, these forces have consistently committed weaponized sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) against the women and girls of Tigray. As stated by the former Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon, weaponized SGBV “can be every bit as destructive to communities as more conventional weapons,” especially considering the scale at which weaponized SGBV has been unleashed on Tigray.

Moreover, the Ethiopian government has been purchasing drones from countries like Turkey to terrorize civilians by conducting airstrikes injuring and killing scores of Tigrayan civilians as frequently as multiple times in one week. In the first two weeks of 2022 alone, over 100 civilians in Tigray have been killed by targeted airstrikes. As a NATO member, Turkey should uphold the NATO standard and values of protecting human rights; however, by providing Ethiopia with aerial weapons, Turkey is supporting the genocidal war against Tigrayans. The Turkish government violates a core tenet of NATO by selling arms to a government which has committed countless atrocities, including using sexual violence as a weapon of war.

There have also been reports of alleged use of chemical weapons by the Ethiopian government against Tigrayans, from which several civilians suffered from severe burns characteristic of chemical phosphorus burns. According to internal sources, as reported by EEPA, these chemical weapons would have potentially been purchased in China, Russia, and Ukraine, indicating further foreign involvement in the genocidal war on Tigray.

Drones from the United Arab Emirates

Another belligerent foreign actor in the genocidal war on Tigray is the United Arab Emirates (UAE). At the start of the war in November 2020, Tigrayan forces confirmed that the UAE was assisting the Ethiopian army with drones dispatched from an airbase in Eritrea. These drones were responsible for neutralizing Tigrayan forces and the success of Ethiopia and its allies in the early days of the conflict. As the TDF made significant military gains throughout November 2021, the Ethiopian government turned once again to the UAE for military support. This renewed partnership between Ethiopia and the UAE has been confirmed by satellite imagery and reports from Aljazeera.  

An estimated 119 cargo flights from the UAE to Ethiopia have been recorded since August 2021, while there were 15 cargo flights between Iran and Ethiopia during the same period. Through remnants of missiles at the sites of airstrikes, the bombing of civilians in Alamata, Tigray in December 2021 has been linked to Chinese-made machinery purchased by the UAE.

In October 2021, U.S. Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Jeffery Feltman announced that the Ethiopian government was venturing on “a bombing campaign while using drones from questionable sources, including reportedly from U.S. adversaries.” General Tsadkan Gebretensae of the TDF recalled that there were 10 drones in the sky at once, indicating the intensity with which the Ethiopian government has deployed aerial weaponry. Foreign-supplied drone use has played a significant role in the genocidal war on Tigray, affecting TDF supply lines and causing indiscriminate civilian injuries and deaths. Additionally, survivors of these aerial bombardments are unable to receive medical care due to Tigray’s deliberately decimated health system which has been targeted by the ENDF, Eritrean troops, and allied militias. Humanitarian aid agencies have chosen to cease operations in Tigray “due to the ongoing threats of drone strikes.”


Supporters of the Ethiopian government make contradictory claims, as they decry foreign intervention while cheering on the involvement of foreign countries like Eritrea and Iran in the genocidal war on Tigray. It is evident that the Ethiopian government and its supporters welcome foreign involvement as long as it sponsors the complete destruction of Tigray. Similarly, relevant parties and allied nations of countries directly involved in the war have shown varying levels of concern and interest, which is clear in their actions or lack thereof. Several countries have demanded the immediate departure of their nationals from Ethiopia, while employees of international organizations such as the United Nations have been detained.

The genocidal war has been internationalized in several aspects, including the influx of Tigrayan refugees into neighboring countries like Sudan. Territory disputes and revanchism has fueled violence, particularly in western Tigray and northern Tigray, resulting in the mass detentions and executions, and forced expulsion of Tigrayans from their homes. While the Ethiopian government resorts to foreign involvement to commit crimes against humanity, Tigrayans are forced to seek refuge outside of their homeland, change their identity, or get hunted-down by neighborhood vigilante groups in their own homes. Instead of protecting its Tigrayan citizens, the Ethiopian government has taken all measures to alienate them and have them viewed as foreigners throughout the country.

Foreign involvement in the genocidal war on Tigray thus far has had an incredibly deadly impact  amounting to war crimes and violations of international law. The international community must take action to mitigate the impacts of genocide and the rapidly deteriorating humanitarian crisis. The Ethiopian government must cease all acts of ethnic cleansing and genocide, accompanied by the verifiable withdrawal of Eritrean troops from Tigray and the immediate cessation of foreign-backed weaponry sold to Ethiopia. Drone expert Peter W. Singer said the experimentation of drone warfare in Ethiopia parallels situations where outside powers used conflict as a means to test new military technologies and observe what level of weaponry is tolerated by the international community. He then added that the use of such technology does not guarantee a win, and that “Human will is what determines the outcome of war,” — a statement that embodies the defiant and unwavering will of the Tigrayan people.

Semhal – Omna Tigray Contributor, January 2022