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U.S. Envoy Warns Ethiopia Conflict Could Spiral Amid Military Escalation

Ethiopia conflict Abiy State Department GettyImages 1345002639 1 captis executive search management consulting leadership board services

The U.S. State Department has doubled down on urgent requests for U.S. citizens to leave Ethiopia as the Biden administration’s top envoy to the region warned that military developments could outpace diplomatic efforts to resolve the country’s conflict.

Jeffrey Feltman, U.S. President Joe Biden’s special envoy for the Horn of Africa, said the United States continued to push both the Ethiopian government and opposing forces led the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) toward talks to end the yearlong conflict, even as the State Department is warning U.S. citizens to leave as soon as possible.

“There is some nascent progress in trying to get the parties to move from a military confrontation to a negotiating process, but what concerns us is this fragile progress risks being outpaced by the alarming developments on the ground that threaten Ethiopia’s overall stability and unity,” Feltman told reporters this week after returning from a trip to Ethiopia to meet with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.

The U.S. State Department has doubled down on urgent requests for U.S. citizens to leave Ethiopia as the Biden administration’s top envoy to the region warned that military developments could outpace diplomatic efforts to resolve the country’s conflict.

Jeffrey Feltman, U.S. President Joe Biden’s special envoy for the Horn of Africa, said the United States continued to push both the Ethiopian government and opposing forces led the Tigray Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF) toward talks to end the yearlong conflict, even as the State Department is warning U.S. citizens to leave as soon as possible.

“There is some nascent progress in trying to get the parties to move from a military confrontation to a negotiating process, but what concerns us is this fragile progress risks being outpaced by the alarming developments on the ground that threaten Ethiopia’s overall stability and unity,” Feltman told reporters this week after returning from a trip to Ethiopia to meet with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.

“Unfortunately, each side is trying to achieve its goal by military force, and each side seems to believe that it’s on the cusp of winning,” he added.

In recent weeks, the State Department briefed Congress on the potential risk posed to U.S. citizens who remain in Ethiopia as rebel forces advance on the capital. The State Department estimates roughly 30,000 to 40,000 U.S. citizens—including dual nationals—could be in Ethiopia, according to current and former officials familiar with the matter. It has not publicly commented on any estimated numbers.

U.S. citizens are not required to register with the State Department or U.S. Embassies when they travel abroad, meaning U.S. diplomats can only rely on rough estimates for the number of citizens in any given country. State Department officials have sought to make clear to U.S. citizens and congressional overseers that it could not provide emergency evacuations for citizens if the conflict worsened or the capital became threatened.

“We just want to make sure that we don’t get into a situation where U.S. citizens are waiting for something that’s never going to happen, right?” a senior State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told reporters in a briefing this week. “That they’re waiting for us to come the way that we came in Afghanistan when, in fact, that’s not going to happen. We need them to remember what the norm is, and the norm is leaving via commercial [flights] while that’s available.”

The conflict in Ethiopia, sparked in November 2020, has been marked by widespread atrocities against civilians, including ethnic cleansing, sexual violence, forced starvation, and other possible war crimes. The conflict also fueled a new humanitarian crisis, pushing 1.7 million additional people into hunger and displacing hundreds of thousands more. The United States has also criticized Abiy’s government for not opening access to Tigray to allow in sorely needed humanitarian and food supplies for the civilian population.

The conflict first started after Abiy dispatched Ethiopian forces into the country’s Tigray region in response to Tigrayan forces attacking a government military installation. The military operation, backed by forces from neighboring Eritrea, eventually faltered after TPLF forces rallied and retook the Tigrayan capital of Mekele in June.

The conflict has escalated further since then, with an estimated death toll of several hundred thousand people and TPLF-led forces, allied with other regional militias, gaining momentum against the government. Exact numbers are hard to tally as independent investigators and journalists are not allowed in those areas of Ethiopia.

Biden dispatched Democratic Sen. Chris Coons, a close White House ally who also sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to the Ethiopian capital in March to meet with Abiy to help address the crisis. TPLF forces said they have advanced to within around 130 miles of the capital, Addis Ababa, adding a new layer of urgency to international efforts to broker a diplomatic solution to the conflict.

“I don’t think [Abiy] ever calculated that the result might be … several different regional, ethnic rebel armies advancing on Addis,” Coons told Foreign Policy in a recent interview. “I’m hopeful Abiy will seize this last possible moment to negotiate in good faith.”

Abiy has reportedly traveled to the front lines of the conflict to lead government forces in their fight against TPLF fighters, according to Ethiopian state media, after issuing dramatic calls for Addis Ababa citizens to take up arms and defend the capital. Feltman said in his recent conversations with Abiy, the Ethiopian leader “expressed confidence that militarily he would be able to achieve his goals.”

Coons expressed concern the conflict could spiral further if a peaceful settlement isn’t reached soon.

“This is a completely alarming development and a very concerning phase in what has been now a brutal year of war,” Coons said. “And that I am concerned may be the opening act in a long and tragic play that will unfold along much the same lines as the many wars within the former Yugoslavia.”

This is not a CAPTIS article. Originally, it was published here.