Ethiopia tours war zone to drum up support for military campaign

Ethiopia’s president has ordered a delegation to join the army for a tour of war zones in the Horn of Africa, part of an attempt to gain military support for the military’s war on the rebels of the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF).

Thousands of Ethiopian soldiers continue to battle the ONLF rebels in the region of Ogaden, which borders war-torn Somalia. The defence minister said last week that Ethiopian forces faced a “very advanced” battle against the group, in which they had captured a highway on the Somali side of the border and casualties among militants had been increasing.

Mahmoud Ahmed Hussein told the state-affiliated Fana Broadcasting Corporate that an all-expenses-paid tour to the frontline had been ordered by President Girma Wolde-Giorgis. “On the field, our soldiers are brave, they are taking part in the war against the enemy.”

He said the delegation would “accompany our soldiers [on] the offensive movements towards the enemy” and “come back with critical thinking for our country”.

Ethiopia’s prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, has recently visited the parts of the country where the ONLF are active. At an election rally last month in the town of Bole, his first visit to war-torn areas since taking office in April, Abiy said: “Here at the front, let us choose solidarity and hope. Let us choose not to be divided by evils or differentiate ourselves by our differences.”

Ethiopia is often seen as divided by its political, religious and regional divisions. But Abiy has been praised by the international community for his calls for unity in the face of an ONLF attack that killed dozens of civilians and wounded others in August.

The trip may help ease tensions between the government and certain tribes, according to analyst Gessesse Warsame, who is a former commander of Ethiopia’s national army. However, he said the plan did not depend on what was said by the delegation.

Somalia’s new government formed by President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed has said it would be willing to help Ethiopian troops in the region, and even return in a support role, but Ethiopia has been making this sort of request for years.

The ONLF said it had not invited the delegation and called on the army to give the peace process in the Ogaden the necessary attention.

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