Myanmar Military Reeling From Attacks by Anti-Coup Forces

November 17, 2023

Well, it is kicking off in Myanmar. Big time.

I have occasionally reported on the ongoing conflict in that bighted for years, indeed I’ve even conducted humanitarian work in some of the conflict areas in the country. But I have never seen anything close to what is happening now. In fact, so much is going on this is very much going to be a summary of the major events as detailing individual actions is completely impossible as so much is occurring.

In brief, major attacks have taken place all across the country in the last couple of weeks with a number of the Ethnic Armed Organisations (EAOs) and the Peoples Defense Forces (PDFs) attacking Burma army and police strongholds in what appears to be nationwide coordinated actions with one another. And the anti-military forces are taking towns apparently by the dozen, while the junta seems to be in serious trouble.

So to begin, let’s start in the north east of the country in Shan State. Here the Brotherhood Alliance, made up of the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and the Arakan Army (AA), reportedly assisted by the Bamar People’s Liberation Army (BPLA), launched a huge coordinated attack against military positions starting on the 27th of October.

Code named “Operation 1027” the Brotherhood Alliance has seized hundreds of military bases and outposts, including capturing 122mm D-30 howitzers, Multiple Rocket Launcher Systems, EE-9 armored cars and other armored fighting vehicles from the Myanmar army, as well as large quantities of arms and munitions.

But perhaps even more significant is the territory taken. According to the Irrawaddy newspaper the Brotherhood’s offensive has closed the critical border trade corridors between Shan State and China, which are some of the most important and heavily trafficked routes in the entire country. Indeed, some of these border crossing points are now in the hands of the Alliance.

The Irrawaddy estimates that this is costing the junta almost half a million dollars a day in lost tax revenue, but it also needs to be remembered that these border crossing are also used by the junta to ship the huge quantities of arms and ammunition that they purchase from China for use by the Myanmar military.

Plus in recent days the willingness of the Myanmar army to fight is being called into question. On the 15th November 127 Myanmar soldiers, a complete unit, surrendered en masse to the Brotherhood Alliance, the largest surrender to have occurred since the military coup in February 2021.

And the latest reports indicate that the MNDAA are intending to take the city Laukkaing, the capital of Kokang which was seized from them by the military in 2009. Should this occur it will be a huge boost for the MNDAA and a significant blow to the junta.

Further south Operation 1027 is being supported by Operation 1107, launched by the Karenni EAO’s on the 7th of November. The Karenni have been fighting against the junta since the coup, but this latest effort has seen them inflict serious damage on the Myanmar military and capture large quantities of army weaponry.

Again, the important border trade points have been targeted, these leading into Thailand, but the Karenni are now pushing to retake the Kayah State capital of Loikaw. On 15th November after two days of heavy fighting the Karenni captured Loikaw University, which had been heavily defended by junta forces.

According to reports one hundred and ten junta soldiers were killed in the action, including two battalion commanders, and thirty-eight captured.

The Karenni report that the standard response of the Myanmar military of calling in air strikes to support them has complicated the operation, however they also claim the destruction of a Myanmar Air Force K-8 attack jet on the 11th of November.

In Kachin State in the north of the country the Kachin Independence Army is also continuing to attack junta forces in multiple locations as well as assisting in Operation 1027.

The KIA is launching daily attacks on Myanmar military outposts, convoys and patrols, though the cost is unfortunately being borne by the villagers who live in the north, with junta forces shelling and burning villages in contested zones on a regular basis, according to a report by the Free Burma Rangers.

In the south the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) inflicted a significant defeat on junta forces sent to attack them across the Attran bridge that links Kayin and Mon States. Apparently, the attack derailed badly with fourteen junta troops killed and twenty-three captured.

Additionally, on the 17th of November the KNLA and PDF forces managed to seize and destroy a base belonging to Light Infantry Battalion 351 in Bago Region, not far from Yangon.

LIB 351 is accused of committing a number of atrocities in the area since the coup, so I am sure they won’t be much mourned.

More centrally in the country the National Unity Government reports that the town of Kawlin in Sagaing Region fell to the local People Defence Force unit on Monday the 13th of November.

The capture, which was supported by Kachin forces, is a significant event for the NUG and further shows the failing grip of the military to hold territory that has traditionally been firmly under their control up until now.

PDF forces further south in Salingyi Township also concluded a many months long guerilla campaign against junta forces after driving out the local garrison with the use of drone bombing and ambushes.

And the problems for the junta go much further. In the west of the country on the Indian border EAO’s of the Chin people have overwhelmed two of the junta’s main bases and on the 15th November seized the important border crossing of Rikhawdar. According to Reuters the Chin managed to surprise the local garrison, who fled into India, and are now in firm control of the town, though airstrikes are likely to occur if they haven’t already.

Again, this is a significant moment as the Chin, one of the least reported on and lightly equipped of the ethnic forces, have managed an important victory and, once again, this seems to have been part of a much larger plan by anti-junta forces all across the country to apply maximum pressure on the Myanmar military.

Plus, in the Southwest the powerful Arakan Army now appears to be making moves.

Though the AA have been fighting in the north alongside the Kachin and their allies in the Brotherhood Alliance, they have been in an uneasy truce with the junta security forces in their home state of Rakhine. But in the last few days the Arakan have started attacking border guard posts in Rakhine and seized the town of  Pauktaw, close to the state capital of Sittwe and signaling yet another front that the junta must deal with and further cuts to their external supply lines.

As said, this is a bare summary of a massive campaign that is now being waged all across the country by EAO’s, PDF’s and urban guerilla forces all looking to end the military junta. And it is the first time I’ve ever thought that the military looked like they were really on the ropes.

In fact a few months ago a Karenni I know told me that they were talking about making an assault on the capital of Naypyidaw. At the time I dismissed this as bold talk, but honestly now, I think that may be on the cards sooner rather than later, though the main field strength of the Myanmar military has to be faced, which would include heavy armour and substantial artillery units which the lightly equipped EAOs and PDFs have no real answer to.

But with the increasing surrenders and defections we are seeing currently of junta forces, it might well be that they wont have to.

In the past I have often concluded these reports with a call for the international community to do more to assist the anti-government forces in Burma, primarily on humanitarian grounds. But now I have to suggest that outside nations start making proper overtures to the various groups fighting the junta because I suspect soon those groups ARE going to be the government.

Those groups are going to need a lot of help because the end of military rule will not spell the end of Myanmar’s problems. The politics and inter-ethnic dynamics are far too complex to allow for some Star Warsian ending, where the baddies are beaten and everyone has a party.

Post-military Myanmar has the potential to be a total blood bath.

If outside countries want to prevent that, as well as perhaps have some influence in the future Myanmar, they need to start taking action now on who they are going to deal with and how.

The international community has glossed over Myanmar for decades now, largely failing a people that have been preyed upon by their own elites for profit.

I hope that the world won’t fail them again.

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