Ethiopia’s government announced late Monday that it had recaptured the strategic towns of Dessie and Kombolcha, more than a month after Tigrayan rebels claimed control of the two cities located on a key highway to the capital.
“The historic Dessie city and the trade and industry corridor city, Kombolcha have been freed by the joint gallant security forces,” the government communications service said on Twitter, the latest in a round of territorial gains claimed by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s administration.
On Wednesday, the government announced that pro-Abiy forces had recaptured the UNESCO World Heritage site of Lalibela, which had fallen to Tigrayan fighters in August.
After the rebels claimed major territorial gains as part of an advance on the capital Addis Ababa, Abiy announced last month that he would head to the battlefield, as fighting reportedly rages on at least three fronts.
Following Abiy’s declaration, the government has announced the recapture of several small towns, most recently Lalibela which is famed for its 12th-century rock-hewn churches.
In a statement on Sunday, the leader of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), Debretsion Gebremichael, denied the government was scoring major victories, saying the rebels were making strategic territorial adjustments and remained undefeated.
The conflict, which erupted in November 2020, took a sharp turn around at the end of October this year, when the TPLF claimed to have captured Dessie and Kombolcha.
Since then, fears of a rebel march on Addis Ababa have prompted countries such as the United States, France, Britain to urge their citizens to leave Ethiopia as soon as possible, although Abiy’s government says TPLF gains are overstated and the city is secure.
The war broke out when Abiy sent troops into the northernmost Tigray region to topple the TPLF — a move he said came in response to rebel attacks on army camps.
But the rebels mounted a shock comeback, recapturing most of Tigray by June including the capital Mekele before expanding into the neighbouring regions of Amhara and Afar.