Though it is difficult to independently verify, it sounds like Arakan Army snipers are taking a toll.
Military Matters has detailed before the methods being used by the Arakan Army (AA) in the west of Burma since heavy fighting started between the ethnic force and the central military (known as the Tatmadaw) in January, 2019. Now it seems that despite the best efforts of the Tatmadaw, the AA’s methods are bearing fruit.
The AA announced that they had recently overrun a Burma Army post, killing thirty soldiers and capturing several prisoners plus weapons and munitions. They also accused the Tatmadaw of mortaring a civilian village on August 23, resulting in the deaths of three children. The army denied both these claims.
Reportage on the situation is complicated by the fact that independent and foreign journalists are prevented from going to the conflict region and that in June the central government shut down mobile telephone and internet connections in the region in an apparent – and seemingly unsuccessful – attempt to stifle news coming out of the area.
Though restrictions were lifted in some of the townships that have seen fighting, leading to speculation of peace talks between the AA and the government, the blackout remains in four townships where heavy fighting is alleged to be taking place.
However, there can be no denying that the AA has been remarkably successful in their tactics, one of which seems to be deliberately targeting officers. By Aug 7 a lieutenant colonel, four majors and more than a dozen captains had been killed fighting the AA, verified by independent media. Given the harsh nature of the Tatmadaw and its reliance on senior commanders at the expense of individual initiative by soldiers this policy is a logical one for an outmanned force like the AA to adopt so as to retain tactical superiority in any battle.
Additionally, the conflict recently flared on the other side of the country when the AA, in conjunction with its allies from the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and MNDAA, launched six coordinated attacks in Shan State, eastern Burma. Amongst the targets was the Defence Services Technological Academy (DSTA) in Pyin Oo Lwin. The targeting of such a facility in an area thought to be secure is a clear message from the ethnic forces that they are capable of striking in areas “behind the lines”.
The AA also apparently engaged Myanmar navy vessels several times, another first in the war that has been raging between the various ethnic groups and the central government for over seventy years now (Note: I will get round to writing a potted history of the war and factions one day. One day). The vessels were engaging villages and positions in the contested regions, with reports indicating at least one craft suffering damage in the fighting.
It remains to be seen whether the Tatmadaw is able to counter the tactics of the AA. However, given the brutality the military has employs as a standard tactic against ethnic minorities it can be expected that the butcher’s bill will continue to rise.
Ed Nash has spent years travelling around the world and, on occasion, interfering as he sees fit. He has taught English in remote Indian schools, nearly been struck by lightning on horseback in the mountains of Lesotho and worked with ethnic minorities in Burma. Between June 2015 and July 2016 he volunteered with the Kurdish YPG in its battle against ISIS in Syria. His book on his experiences there, Desert Sniper, was published by Little, Brown in September, 2018.