Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](,dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

Ethiopian refugees gather in Al Qadarif, Sudan, on Nov. 15, 2020.

Marwan Ali/The Associated Press

A dramatic escalation of the war in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, including a barrage of rocket attacks on airports in Ethiopia and neighbouring Eritrea, is fuelling international fears that the conflict is spilling across borders and igniting a broader conflagration in the Horn of Africa.

The war, which began on Nov. 4, spiralled to dangerous new levels on Saturday night when forces in the rebellious Tigray region fired missiles at Asmara, capital of Eritrea, whose soldiers have allegedly crossed the border to enter the conflict on the side of the Ethiopian government. Two of the missiles reportedly hit the Asmara airport, and Tigray officials later confirmed that they had launched the attack.

A day earlier, Tigray forces fired rockets at two airports in the neighbouring Amhara region of Ethiopia. The airports in the cities of Gondar and Bahir Dar were damaged and casualties were suffered among Ethiopian troops, according to reports from the region.

Story continues below advertisement

Analysts are worried that the war could draw in Middle Eastern powers, which have increasingly sought influence in North Africa and the Horn of Africa. A senior leader of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, or TPLF, the government in Tigray region, claimed on Sunday that drones from the United Arab Emirates are supporting Ethiopia’s military offensive in the region. The UAE has a military base in Eritrea’s port of Assab.

There are also dangerous tensions between Ethiopia and Egypt over a massive Ethiopian hydroelectric dam on the Nile, and U.S. President Donald Trump warned last month that Egypt could “blow up” the dam.

The missile attack on Eritrea this weekend has led to widespread concerns that the war is escalating out of control. An earlier border conflict between Eritrea and Ethiopia, beginning in 1998, killed as many as 100,000 people and continued to erupt sporadically for two decades.

Tibor Nagy, the U.S. State Department’s top diplomat for Africa, said on Sunday that the United States “strongly condemns the TPLF’s unjustifiable attacks against Eritrea … and its efforts to internationalize the conflict in Tigray.”

U.S. Senator Chris Coons and former U.S. national security adviser Susan Rice, both of whom are reportedly candidates to become Secretary of State in the administration of president-elect Joe Biden, expressed alarm at the growing war.

In a tweet, Ms. Rice called for “fast” leadership by the State Department to defuse the conflict, while Mr. Coons said the war is a threat to millions of Ethiopians and “could have devastating humanitarian consequences in the strategically important Red Sea region.”

The conflict has killed hundreds of people on both sides of the conflict, sparking an exodus of refugees from Tigray. About 25,000 refugees have crossed the border from Tigray into Sudan in recent days, many of them walking barefoot for two days to reach the border. Sudan is reportedly expecting to receive as many as 200,000 refugees from Tigray as the war continues.

Story continues below advertisement

The conflict in Tigray has its roots in a deepening struggle between Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and the defiant Tigrayan regional leaders, who had held enormous influence in the federal government for decades before Mr. Abiy took power in 2018.

Despite orders from the Abiy government, Tigray went ahead with regional elections in September and then seized control of a federal army base this month, triggering a decision by Mr. Abiy to send federal troops into the region.

Mr. Abiy, who won a Nobel Peace Prize last year for forging a peace deal with Eritrea, has described the federal military offensive as merely a “law enforcement operation” to disarm a “criminal junta.” He promised a week ago that the offensive is “rapidly” reaching its goals and “will wrap up soon.” But many analysts have predicted the war will be protracted and bloody, since the TPLF is well-armed and battle-hardened.

In a statement on Sunday, Mr. Abiy said his campaign in Tigray is “progressing well” and “will prevail.”

Tigray’s regional president, Debretsion Gebremichael, told the Associated Press on Sunday that his forces still have “several” long-range missiles and can use them “selectively, anywhere.” He alleged that 16 Eritrean military divisions have entered the conflict on the Ethiopian army’s side – a claim that Eritrea has denied.

“As long as troops are here fighting, we will take any legitimate military target and we will fire,” the Tigray leader told the AP. “We will fight them on all fronts with whatever means we have. ... We have to defend ourselves.”

Story continues below advertisement

Regional and ethnic conflicts have intensified in Ethiopia over the past year, leading to fears that the country could fragment. In the latest example, at least 34 people were killed in an attack on a passenger bus in western Benishangul-Gumuz region, according to a report on Sunday by the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission. It did not identify the attackers.

Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the author of this article:

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies