The treatment of war injured Ethiopian National Defense Force soldiers and their allies speaks volumes about Abiy Ahmed’s philosophy regarding the value of the common person. As much as possible Ethiopia wanted to portray the military action taken in Tigray as having few causalities or blood shed. They wanted to hide the fact that many soldiers in the Ethiopian National Defense Force as well as their mercenary allies, Eritreans and Somalis, were even present. When we recognized them as foreign fighters in Mekelle they were whisked away to the stadium as I describe below. This report is based upon my own experience in Mekelle as well as discussion with various persons in many regions of Tigray and Amhara.
Many fighters for Ethiopia were scooped off the street while working as shoe shine boys or from the homes of their families with promises of bonus payments, land, and other rewards none of which never came true. Even worse when they were injured in battle they were often cursed as cowards and frequently assassinated by FANO militia behind the lines. This was part of a cover-up to minimize the portrayal of war vs a law enforcement operation.
We know that prior to the onset of conflict between Tigray and Ethiopia on November 4, 2020 there were plans made with prominent Amhara members of the academic medical community in Addis Ababa and other Amhara centers to recruit medical staff for the upcoming expected conflict. The Ethiopian military itself normally has almost no doctors. The few military hospitals such as the largest Torhayloch in Addis Ababa relies upon many civilian full time generalists and part-time specialists usually recruited from medical school staff. In fact several years ago I was consulted by Ethiopian military leaders to discuss how we might train “military physicians” as they knew about my experience in the USA.
A part of this Tigray conflict plan was to avoid the public seeing that there were causalities of Ethiopian military personnel. This would match the concept that the operation was a “law enforcement” operation with little impact on civilians and with little sacrifice of life. In fact it was planned that a triage site and receiving center would be in the town of Woldia in Amhara near the southwestern Tigray border where trusted politically loyal doctors recruited would be established early on the fighting. Remember Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s boasting that there were few military casualties and not even one civilian killed early during the fighting.
When the Tigray Defense Force retreated and the ENDF forces advanced eventually through Tigray and finally into Mekelle they destroyed medical facilities in their path. Within their ranks were ENDF fighters mostly from Amhara and Oromo regions but also Eritrea and Somalia. For the first few weeks of occupation all these combatants were treated initially at Ayder but not in great numbers. for long. The story we were told is that there many Tigray dead and almost no ENDF injuries.
However the invading ENDF began to set up a sort of field hospital at the new soccer stadium in Mekelle. They began to transfer all ENDF, Eritrean, and Somali fighters to that facility. They also took almost all Tigray fighters in Ayder to parts unknown. There was a recently built new military hospital in Tigray which was staffed with part time Mekelle University medical staff but this was closed within a few weeks.
Following the retreat of the ENDF from Ayder we learned that hospitals in Gondar, Dessie, and Bahir Dar were overwhelmed with so many medical causalities that regular civilians services were stopped or at least severally curtailed. Very few Tigrayan prisoners were seen at these facilities leading many to believe that the invading forces most likely executed immediately any potential prisoners.
Of the tens of thousands of prisoners held in Mekelle in the rehabilitation camp many were given adequate food and what health care was available. Many government employed medical personnel as well as Mekelle University faculty volunteered to care for both their own soldiers and captured prisoners in the field in makeshift facilities.
Interviews of ENDF and their allied prisoners have revealed that some were shot were retreating from the battlefield to seek treatment by FANO militia. Additionally it is now well established that commanders in ENDF attempted to hide causalities by blocking when possible their access to medical facilities. Some prisoners in Mekelle have related that many wounded were shot and placed in mass burial site.
Now we are hearing that of the 4,000 prisoners of war released who were screened and found to not have committed war crimes, many of these were captured outside Tigray, were heckled and suffered pelting from thrown rocks when they reached the Amhara borders. Subsequently they were quickly collected in buses by local representatives of the federal government and taken to parts unknown.