The State Department called for negotiations regarding Ethiopia’s military escalation in the rebelling Tigray region on Friday, according to Reuters.

“Secretary Blinken expressed grave concern about worrying signs of military escalation in Ethiopia and emphasised the need to urgently move to negotiations,” department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement after a phone call between Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta and Blinken.

Ethiopia’s state-affiliated Fana Broadcasting reported that Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed was on the front-line with the army fighting rebel Tigrayan forces in the northeastern Afar region.

“We won’t give in until we bury the enemy,” he said in the recorded statement posted on Twitter.

Ethiopia has been fighting insurgent Tigrayan forces seeking independence for more than a year, in a conflict that has killed tens of thousands and displaced millions, Al-Jazeera reported.

On Friday, the United Nations’ World Food Programme (WFP) said the number of people requiring food aid in the north had surged to more than 9 million.

The conflict began last November when Abiy Ahmed’s administration sent troops to Tigray to remove the governing Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). The TPLF dominated the Ethiopian federal government for nearly 30 years until Abiy Ahmed took office in 2018. However, the old ruling party still maintained control over the Tigray region.

Government forces seized Tigray’s capital Mekelle in what seemed to be a decisive victory soon after. By June 2021, Tigrayan forces had retaken most of the region and pushed into the neighboring Amhara and Afar regions.

The Tigrayan forces recently reported significant territorial gains, claiming this week to have seized a town just 135 miles from the capital, Addis Ababa.