Last year the Ethiopian army quickly overran the capital of Tigray (Mekelle) and drove the Tigray Defense Forces (TDF) into the mountains, caves, forests etc., seemingly turning the conflict into a guerilla campaign. But in a fairly stunning comeback, the TDF retook Mekelle this summer.

I'm having a hard time understanding how/if this was possible without outside help to the TDF. They were known as having better trained forced than the Ethiopian army, but they were basically surrounded by enemies, because Eritrea was allied with the Ethiopian government in this fight (albeit the Ethiopian government disclaim Eritrean soldiers took part, although the TDF says otherwise). Furthermore Tigray has only like 6% of the population of Ethiopia.

I cannot find any info on who might have helped the TDF, and it seems pretty hard to believe they could have made this comeback all on their own. Insurgencies hardly ever win without a "safe haven" and/or help from neighboring countries or at least some foreign help. So is there at least informed speculation on who is helping the TDF?

  • N.B. Ethiopia has accused Egypt of sponsoring the Gumuz militia over the GERD Nile dam conflict, but this is pretty far from Tigray aa.com.tr/en/africa/…
    – Fizz
    Sep 5, 2021 at 22:50
  • Since I wrote this Q, Tigray's luck has changed a bit. Apparently with Chinese, Iranian, and seemingly also Turkish drones hammering them they are now on the backfoot. So I guess we can exclude those countries has having helped Tigray...
    – Fizz
    Sep 4 at 14:17

2 Answers 2


So far there hasn't been much information regarding foreign help for TDF and their allies. Maybe the reason they have held out much longer than so many others is because of Morale ? However, there are many reasons why smaller armies can hold their own against bigger international coalitions, Mao Zedong's People's War tactics can be useful, where militias gain support of common people through welfare and governance activities in the face of an unpopular ruler.(https://www.jstor.org/stable/2009880)

A dominant part however, is morale. The Tigrayans have realised the genocidal ambitions of Eritreyans and the Government, so they have given it their all to ensure their very existence.


Actually, the Ethiopian army drove the TPLF (Tigrayan People's Liberation Army) out of Mekelle into the mountains (and not the TDF). This came later when they regrouped under a new name and, I would guess, new leadership.

Tigray is the home ground for the TDF, so they have that advantage. They know the terrain - and obviously, they want to retain it.

They could concievably had help from the OLA (Oromo Liberation Army) which had been fighting the Ethiopian governmentbin Western Oromia since 2018. However, they signed a pact in August 2021, two months after the TDLF retook Mekelle in June, to cooperate in their struggle against Abiy's government.

To underline what I said earlier, it looks very much like the TDFs own work after reorganising with a probable leadership change.

  • 2
    I'm not the dowmvoter but from experience I can say that your answer may be seen as too speculative and not enough backed up by credible sources. Try to find more sources for your claims. That will make the post really informative. In this case where you want to argue that they did not get any outside help describe the search process that led you to the conclusion. How do you know that they did not get help? Include that information in the post.
    – Trilarion
    May 9 at 6:47
  • AFAICT both the TPLD and the TDP had/have the same (political) leader en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Debretsion_Gebremichael ; en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tigray_Defense_Force It's possible the tactician/strategist in charge of daily ops changed though. The military commander of the TDF itself changed a few times en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tadesse_Werede_Tesfay ; en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tsadkan_Gebretensae so that's somewhat harder to figure out how is related to the strategy.
    – Fizz
    Sep 4 at 13:46
  • @Fizz: I wrote my answer in May. Politics is not like mathematics - things can change everyday and sometimes dramatically especially in a volatile region likr Tigray. Sep 16 at 11:50

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