Mr. Abiy, who insists his dispute is with the ruling “clique” of Tigray, and not its people, has repeatedly promised a short campaign. Few experts believe that is likely. By some estimates, Tigray has 250,000 armed men, including special forces and militias. And its leaders, who have been anticipating this confrontation for more than a year, will not be easy to find.
Ethiopian officials say their immediate goal is to topple the rebellious Tigray authorities and capture their 12-person executive committee: a group of politicians, ideologues and security officials, many veterans of Tigray’s last war in the 1980s.
One major target is Getachew Assefa, a Tigrayan hard-liner and former head of Ethiopia’s intelligence service, who has been on the run since 2018, when Mr. Abiy’s government issued a warrant for his arrest.
Even in power, Mr. Getachew was notoriously had to find. A single dated photo of him is in circulation. After the American ambassador then, Donald Yamamoto, obtained a rare meeting with Mr. Getachew in 2009, he noted his “hot temper and reclusive habits” and that he was known for “eccentric behavior and elusiveness.”
Other senior Tigrayans wanted by the government include an 80-year-old ideologue, a former foreign minister and the party president, Debretsion Gebremichael, considered a political moderate until tensions with Mr. Abiy exploded this year.
That dispute did not have to end in fighting, said Asnake Kefale, an associate professor of political science at Addis Ababa University. But a purported Tigrayan attack on an Ethiopian Army base in Tigray early this month “took the division, which could have been resolved through politics, to a war, with all the adverse consequences,” he added.