US warns pilots of gunfire as war approaches Ethiopia’s capital

US warns pilots of gunfire as war approaches Ethiopia’s capital

Nairobi The United States is warning pilots that aircraft operating at one of Africa’s busiest airports could be “directly or indirectly exposed to ground-based weapons fire and/or surface-to-air fire” as Ethiopia’s war approaches the capital, Addis Ababa.

Wednesday’s FAA report cited “ongoing clashes” between Ethiopian forces and fighters from the northern region of Tigray, which have killed thousands of people in a year of war. The United States this week urged its citizens in Ethiopia to “leave now,” saying that no Afghanistan-style evacuation should be expected.

The Addis Ababa International Airport is a hub for the state-owned Ethiopian Airlines, and is a symbol of Ethiopia’s former position as one of the world’s fastest growing economies before the war. Addis Ababa is also the continent’s diplomatic capital as the home of the African Union.

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The FAA report notes there were no reports of disturbances at Bole International Airport and “no indication of intent to threaten civil aviation,” but says the risk to aircraft approaching and departing could increase if Tigray fighters surrounded the capital.

Tigray fighters “likely possess a variety of weapons capable of defending aircraft, including rocket-propelled grenades, anti-tank weapons, low-caliber anti-aircraft artillery, and MANPADS” or MANPADS that can reach up to 25,000 feet above a level Earth’s surface, says an FAA consultant.

Recognizing the importance of Bole Airport for continued travel to the African continent and beyond, Britain’s African Affairs Minister Vicki Ford last week told reporters that Britain is now advising against all travel to Ethiopia except at the airport for departures and transfers.

Tigrayan forces, who have long dominated the national government before current Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed took power in 2018, have moved closer to Addis Ababa in recent weeks and joined with another armed group, the Oromo Liberation Army, with the aim of pressuring Abiy to step down.

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The Tigray forces also say they are pressing the Ethiopian government to lift the months-long blockade of the Tigray region, which includes the Ethiopian government’s restrictions on flights over Tigray.

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