Myanmar’s army is shedding floor in opposition to coordinated nationwide assaults, buoying opposition hopes

BANGKOK (AP) — About two weeks into a serious offensive in opposition to Myanmar‘s military-run government by an alliance of three well-armed militias of ethnic minorities, an army captain, fighting in a jungle area near the northeastern border with China, lamented that he’d by no means seen such intense motion.

His commander in Myanmar‘s 99th Light Infantry Division had been killed in fighting in Shan state the week before and the 35-year-old career soldier said army outposts were in disarray and being hit from all sides.

“I have never faced these kinds of battles before,” the combat veteran told The Associated Press by phone. “This fighting in Shan is unprecedented.” Eight days later the captain was dead himself, killed defending an outpost and hastily buried near where he fell, according to his family.

The coordinated offensive in the northeast has inspired resistance forces around the country to attack, and Myanmar‘s military is falling back on almost every front. The army says it’s regrouping and can regain the initiative, however hope is rising amongst opponents that this might be a turning level within the battle to oust the military leaders who toppled democratically elected Aung San Suu Kyi virtually three years in the past.

“The current operation is a great opportunity to change the political situation in Myanmar, ” mentioned Li Kyar Win, spokesperson for the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, or MNDAA, one of many three militias generally known as the Three Brotherhood Alliance that launched the offensive on Oct. 27.

“The goal and purpose of the alliance groups and other resistance forces are the same,” he advised the AP. “We are trying to eliminate the military dictatorship.”

Caught without warning by the assault dubbed Operation 1027, the army has misplaced greater than 180 outposts and strongpoints, together with 4 main bases and 4 economically essential border crossings with China.

Both sides declare they’ve inflicted heavy tolls on the opposite, although correct casualty figures aren’t accessible. Nearly 335,000 civilians have been displaced through the present preventing, bringing the whole to greater than 2 million displaced nationwide, in keeping with the United Nations.

In the most recent assault, a coalition of militia forces attacked a city in southeastern Kayin state on Friday, blocking the primary highway to a key border city with Thailand. Residents mentioned the army responded with artillery and airstrikes.

“This is the biggest battlefield challenge that the Myanmar military has faced for decades,” Richard Horsey, the International Crisis Group’s Myanmar professional, mentioned of the offensive.

“And for the regime, this is by far the most difficult moment it’s faced since the early days of the coup.”

Complicating issues for the army is China ‘s apparent tacit support for the Three Brotherhood Alliance, stemming, at least partially, from Beijing‘s growing irritation at the burgeoning drug trade along its border and the proliferation of centers in Myanmar from which cyberscams are run, frequently by Chinese organized crime cartels with workers trafficked from China or elsewhere in the region.

As Operation 1027 has gained ground, thousands of Chinese nationals involved in such operations have been repatriated into police custody in China, giving Beijing little reason to exert pressure on the Brotherhood to stop fighting.

The military, known as the Tatmadaw, remains far bigger and better trained than the resistance forces, and has armor, airpower and even naval assets to fight the lightly armed militias organized by various ethnic minority groups.

But with its unexpectedly quick and widespread losses and overstretched forces, morale is sagging with more troops surrendering and defecting, giving rise to a wary optimism among its diverse opponents.

The current gains are just part of what has been a long struggle, said Nay Phone Latt, a spokesperson for the National Unity Government, the leading opposition organization.

“I would say the revolution has reached the next level, rather than to say it has reached a turning point,” he said.

“What we have now is the results of our preparation, organization and building over nearly the past three years,” he said.

The Offensive

The Feb. 1, 2021, seizure of power by army commander Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing brought thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators to the streets of Myanmar‘s cities.

Military leaders responded with brutal crackdowns and have arrested more than 25,000 people and killed more than 4,200 as of Friday, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, and U.N. independent investigators earlier this year accused the regime of being responsible for multiple war crimes.

Its violent tactics gave rise to People’s Defense Forces, or PDFs — armed resistance forces that assist the National Unity Government, a lot of which had been educated by the ethnic armed organizations the army has fought within the nation’s border areas for years.

But resistance was fragmented till Operation 1027, when three of the nation’s strongest armed ethnic teams, the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army in northeastern Shan state, and the Arakan Army in western Rakhine state, assembled a drive of some 10,000 fighters, in keeping with professional estimates, and quickly overran army positions.

Sensing weak spot and impressed by the early successes of these assaults, the Kachin Independence Army adopted by launching new assaults in northern Kachin state, then joined the Arakan Army to assist lead a PDF group to take a city in central Sagaing, the heartland of conventional ethnic Bamar assist for the Tatmadaw.

In the japanese state of Kayah, also referred to as Karenni, an alliance of ethnic armed organizations launched their very own assaults, starting a direct assault on Nov. 11 on the state capital of Loikaw, the place the Tatmadaw has a regional command base.

In the fierce ongoing preventing for Loikaw, the army is utilizing artillery and airstrikes to pound militia positions.

But Khun Bedu, head of the Karenni Nationalities Defense Force, one of many largest militias concerned within the assault, mentioned it was vital to take the Tatmadaw base.

“We have time, and it is a good opportunity,” he advised AP.

Completing the encirclement of Tatmadaw forces, the Arakan Army attacked outposts in its house state of Rakhine within the nation’s west on Nov. 13. Their success has been gradual, with the Tatmadaw making use of naval energy off the west coast to bombard positions, together with concentrated artillery and air strikes, in keeping with a report by the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

Morgan Michaels, who authored the report and runs the IISS Myanmar Conflict Map venture, cautioned that the Tatmadaw has been capable of focus its forces in sturdy factors by abandoning positions and withdrawing, and stays a formidable drive.

“It’s not done fighting, and the air and artillery strikes are increasing and becoming more intense,” he mentioned. “So we have to see how that plays out.”

And regardless of their speak of ridding the nation of the army regime, loads of the preventing can also be concerning the numerous teams seizing management of territory, particularly the MNDAA, which was pushed out of the Kokang space of Shan state, together with the capital Laukkaing, greater than a decade in the past by the army.

“The military could probably end a lot of this with a deal if it needed to,” Michaels mentioned. “It would have to give up something considerable, but I think it could stop the bleeding by giving the MNDAA a considerable concession if they absolutely needed to.”

Still, in contrast to the civil conflict in Syria the place a number of teams have totally different and infrequently conflicting aims, in Myanmar the anti-military teams aren’t preventing amongst one another, he mentioned.

“It’s important to emphasize that many groups have the shared goal of either overthrowing or dismantling or severely depleting the capacity of the military regime,” Michaels mentioned.

It was Nov. 15 when the AP first contacted the Tatmadaw captain, reaching him as he was fleeing a place by the jungle close to the border city of Monekoe, one of many alliance‘s primary targets.

He was able to link up with others, and then led a column back to the Monekoe area to take charge of an outpost on Nov. 22, when he gave the AP a grim assessment of his situation.

“We are surrounded by enemies,” he said, adding that even local army-affiliated militia could not be trusted.

“Here it is difficult to differentiate between who is enemy or friend,” he said.

The captain, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals against himself or his family for talking with the media, said there was not even enough time to eat a meal.

“We have to be always ready in an attack position,” he said as the sound of gunfire and an explosion erupted in the background.

“I can’t maintain speaking,” he mentioned rapidly. “They are coming to attack.”

China‘s role

Well aware of Beijing‘s irritation over the criminal activity along its border, the Three Brotherhood Alliance underlined as it launched its offensive that it was committed to “combatting the widespread online gambling fraud that has plagued Myanmar.”

Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing has tried, unsuccessfully, to turn that on its head and say that the offensive is being funded by the drug trade.

As militia forces have advanced toward the city of Laukkaing, where many of the scam centers were located, their operations have been scattering and many high-level suspects have been captured and turned over to China.

Knowing China‘s historic ties to the Brotherhood militias and the influence it wields, supporters of Myanmar’s ruling generals have held a number of demonstrations in main cities, together with in entrance of the Chinese Embassy in Yangon, accusing China of aiding the militia alliance.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin skirted a query about these allegations this week, as a substitute telling reporters that Beijing “respects the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Myanmar” and reiterating requires peace.

But Beijing‘s actions speak louder than its words, Horsey said.

“If they really wanted the cease-fire, they do have the leverage to enforce one or get pretty far toward enforcing one,” he said. “They haven’t accomplished that, in order that’s telling.”

The captain’s loss of life

The AP final made contact with the captain preventing in Shan state on Nov. 23. The name was brief.

“I have something to prepare for our outpost,” he mentioned hurriedly. “I will call you back.”

The subsequent name was from a relative on Nov. 25, who mentioned they’d been knowledgeable he was killed in an evening raid on his outpost and buried on website.

It was not clear precisely the place the outpost was situated, however just one battle was reported within the area that night time.

The Brotherhood’s Ta’ang National Liberation Army mentioned its forces attacked a big army outpost in Lashio township on Nov. 23 and took it early the subsequent day.

In its matter-of-fact report, Ta’ang forces mentioned they seized a howitzer, 78 smaller weapons and ammunition, and located the burial website of “more than 50 enemy.”


Associated Press author Ken Moritsugu in Beijing contributed to this story.

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