Mr. Abiy, who insists that his argument is with the ruling “clique” of Tigray and not with his people, has repeatedly promised a short campaign. Few experts think this is likely. According to 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 overthrow the rebellious Tigray authorities and capture their 12-member executive committee: a group of politicians, ideologues and security officials, many veterans of Tigray’s last war in the 1980s.

A key target is Getachew Assefa, a Tigrayan hardliner and former head of the Ethiopian secret service, who has been on the run since 2018 when the Abiy government issued an arrest warrant against him.

Even in power, Mr. Getachew must be found notorious. A single dated photo of him is in circulation. After American Ambassador Donald Yamamoto had a rare meeting with Mr. Getachew in 2009, he noted his “hot temper and withdrawn habits” and that he was known for “eccentric behavior and evasive behavior”.

Other high-ranking Tigrayans wanted by the government include an 80-year-old ideologue, a former foreign minister, and party president Debretsion Gebremichael, who is considered politically moderate until tensions with Mr Abiy exploded this year.

That argument didn’t have to end in fighting, said Asnake Kefale, associate professor of political science at Addis Ababa University. An alleged attack by the Tigrayans on an Ethiopian army base in Tigray earlier this month “led the division that politics could have resolved into a war with all the detrimental consequences,” he added.

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