Who Are the Tigray Defense Forces (TDF)?

Who Are the Tigray Defense Forces (TDF)?

The Tigray Defense Forces (TDF) are an apolitical military organization that came into existence following the genocidal war waged byEthiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in collaboration with Amhara regional forces and the Eritrean government in November 2020. 

Most recently, the TDF have been referred to as Tigray’s Armed Forces.


Tigray Defense Forces (TDF)

The TDF have been protecting Tigrayans from genocidal actors throughout the war on Tigray. Tigrayans from different walks of life and professions have joined the TDF to put a stop to the atrocities committed on Tigrayans during the genocidal war. 

Farmers, business owners, doctors, teachers, professors, college students, and survivors of the violence are a few examples of those who have joined the TDF to protect the people of Tigray in what is an existential battle.

Contrary to some misconceptions about the TDF, the organization is not affiliated with any political organization inTigray. In fact, many of the Tigrayan party leaders that ran against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) duringTigray’s 2020 elections joined the TDF soon after realizing the intent behind the war waged on Tigray in November 2020. 

Why Does Ethiopia’s TigrayRegion Have Its Own Forces?

Prior to the war, Tigray had its own special forces that worked to maintain peace and order in the region. 

The Ethiopian constitution allows regional states to have special forces. Almost all of Ethiopia’s regional states have special forces, as peace and security are a shared responsibility between the federal and regional state governments per the Ethiopian constitution. 

The federal government is entrusted with establishing and administering the “national defense and public security forces, as well as a federal police force.” Regional states are endowed with the power “[t]o establish and administer a state police force, and to maintain public order and peace within the state.” 

The Tigrayan special forces were the foundation upon which the TDF was formed.

En ding Atrocities BeingCommitted in Tigray

For 8 months, the Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF), Amhara special forces and militias, and Eritrean Defense Forces with Somali soldiers committed unimaginable crimes against humanity, war crimes, and acts of genocide, as they brutally invaded and occupied most ofTigray. With the military support of the UAE, Turkey, China, and Russia, these crimes have continued in areas of Tigray still occupied, while the rest of Tigray is bombed and starved under a deadly siege.

The bombings and shelling of towns and villages, indiscriminate attacks on civilians, and weaponized Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV)are a few of the various forms of physical violence that have been inflicted on the people of Tigray. 

Conservative estimates indicate that more than 70,000 Tigrayans have been killed since the onset of the war, with tens of thousands more injured. Over 6 million people in the region are in dire need of emergency food aid, at least 900,000 are in conditions of famine. Close to 70,000 people have fled to neighboring Sudan, while over 2.2 million people are internally displaced, sheltering in makeshift camps and schools. The region’s healthcare infrastructure has completely collapsed as most health facilities are not functioning with no supplies. 

The Ethiopian government has limited local and international media from entering Tigray in an attempted state-orchestrated cover-up 

of its crimes in the Tigray region. 

TDF Pushed Genocidal Actors Out of Tigray

The TDF, made-up of Tigrayan women and men who wanted to stand up against the crimes being committed in Tigray, has used their generational knowledge of the region and guerrilla warfare to their advantage. 

On June 28, 2021, the TDF successfully pushed out the ENDF, Amhara regional special forces, and Eritrean forces out of most of Tigray. 

A scrappy force of local Tigrayan recruits scored a cascade of battlefield victories against the Ethiopian military, one of Africa’s strongest. 

New York Times, Jul 11, 2021 

As of March 2022, the majority of Tigray is under TDF control. However, the ENDF, Amhara forces, and Eritrean forces still occupy certain parts of Western and Northern Tigray, where the people are still subjected to the violent and brutal invading forces. 

For Tigrayans who lived through the first 8 months of the war, the TDF’s ability to capture most Tigrayan cities and towns in June 2021 was nothing short of miraculous. 

Why Would the TDF FightForces Outside of Tigray?

Ethiopia’s national military, the ENDF, had the responsibility to protect Tigrayans. Instead, they allowed invading forces (Eritrean and Amhara forces and drones from Turkey, Iran, China, and UAE) to inflict well-documented unimaginable pain and suffering on civilians and the ENDF themselves committed atrocities against the people of Tigray.Unfortunately, the ENDF has not operated in the interest of Ethiopian civilians during the genocidal war on Tigray. 

From the beginning of the war, Abiy’s administration showed no interest in dialogue with Tigray’s elected officials, labeling the TPLF as a terrorist group that they cannot negotiate with. 

When the TDF captured Mekelle in June 2021, Abiy claimed that he pulled out of Tigray to consider negotiation, but the reality on the ground proved that the ENDF withdrew from Tigray facing defeat. 

Following the TDF’s liberation of most of Tigrayan territories, Abiy completely blocked access to Tigray in hopes of demoralizing and weakening Tigrayans. It has been 8 months of a government-imposed humanitarian blockade. 

Why Would the TDF FightForces Outside of Tigray?

Since the start of the war, Abiy has obstructed humanitarian aid from entering Tigray. He has also limited local and international media access to Tigray, making it nearly impossible to track the crimes being committed in Tigray during this genocidal war. 

With the siege imposed on Tigray, millions are facing a man-made famine. 

Tigrayans’ survival is also at risk with the lack of access to medicine, fuel, electricity, water, and other basic supplies and services. Tigrayans living in and out of Tigray are being actively targeted by the state. Tigrayans living throughout Ethiopia, including the elderly and children, are being interned in concentration camps.

Thus, the TDF has had no other option but to keep fighting to break the siege and end Tigrayans’ immense suffering.

There have been allegations of crimes committed by Tigrayan forces inAmhara and Afar regions dated to when the TDF was fighting in those regions after the imposition of the siege on Tigray. The Tigray government has noted that it takes any claims of crimes seriously and continues to call for independent investigations, while the Ethiopian government blocks them. 

Saving Tigrayans

The humanitarian catastrophe the Ethiopian and Eritrean governments have unleashed in Tigray is the worst in the last decade in its magnitude and severity, with war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocidal acts committed on Tigrayans. 

While the international community has been intentionally slow in reacting to the genocide taking place in Tigray despite its Responsibility to Protect, the TDF has taken the role of a national defense force in protecting its citizens and stopping the atrocities taking place. 

TDF fighters are simply left with no choice but to keep fighting for Tigrayans’ survival. If not for the TDF, Tigrayans are often left to wonder who would have protected them during this trying time in Tigray’s history.

As of March 2022, their fight to end the genocidal war and allow humanitarian access to Tigray continues.


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