On Nov. 7, hours after a colonel who commanded a light-weight infantry division grew to become the senior-most Myanmar officer to die within the warfare up to now, junta chief Min Aung Hlaing held an emergency assembly of his high army leaders to debate the gathering offensive by the Three Brotherhood Alliance.
Talking at an emergency assembly of the Nationwide Protection and Safety Council within the capital Naypyitaw a day later, Min Aung Hlaing confused the urgency of placing an finish to the northern offensive.
“The three ethnic alliance assaults in northern Shan state close to the China-Myanmar border will break the nation into items,” he mentioned.
The Three Brotherhood Alliance, which incorporates the Ta’ang Nationwide Liberation Military, (TNLA) the Myanmar Nationwide Democratic Alliance Military (MNDAA), and the Arakan Military launched Operation 1027 on Oct. 27, and have swept throughout northern Shan State, taking management of over 126 of the army’s ahead working bases.
Casualty figures are very arduous to substantiate and any claims needs to be taken with a big dose of salt, however Brotherhood Alliance forces now management a lot of Highways 3 and 34 to the important thing China border cities of Muse and Chinshwehaw.
One gentle infantry battalion (LIB) laid down their arms with out placing up a struggle. That in itself could be very telling. On paper a LIB is meant to be roughly 200 males per battalion, although a September 2022, order referred to as for a ground of 185 males. The battalion that surrendered had solely 41 males. Different militia forces have likewise surrendered.
The offensive shouldn’t be a complete shock. The TNLA has been combating for many of 2023. The MNDAA had warned that they’d be a part of the TNLA ought to the army assault their positions within the Kokang area.
The inclusion of the Arakan Military from Rakhine state was a much bigger shock, as a result of the group noticed that they may get higher autonomy of their western state by not combating, and reached a ceasefire in November 2022.
Operation 1027 is vital for 5 key causes.
First, the Brotherhood Alliance helps the opposition Nationwide Unity Authorities (NUG) and its objectives for a federal democracy – though up to now it has not fought alongside the NUG, regardless of its alliance with the Kachin Independence Group, a key member of the NUG’s multi-ethnic alliance.
The TNLA has educated NUG’s folks’s protection forces (PDFs), however so far it has solely fought the army in self protection. PDFs at the moment are combating alongside the Brotherhood Alliance.
Junta taken abruptly
The coordinated offense has clearly taken the army abruptly. Of all the varied battle zones within the nation, together with Sagaing, Chin, Kachin, Mon, Tanintharyi, Shan has seen considerably much less combating. It is a new entrance that the army can in poor health afford.
Second, we’re already witnessing, if not truly additional coordinated offensive operations towards the junta, clearly opportunistic actions by different teams.
On Nov. 6, a coordinated operation between the Kachin Independence Military, the Arakan Military and a PDF took management of Kawlin Township in Sagaing. It’s the first of 330 township capitals in Myanmar to fall, and the primary the place the NUG flag was raised.
It stays to be seen whether or not the Arakan Military will break their ceasefire in Rakhine. They might really feel compelled to take action if their forces in northern Shan undergo heavy casualties. However even when they do not break the ceasefire, for the previous week the army regime has been redeploying forces to Rakhine.
Preventing between the army and Karen Nationwide Liberation Military within the southeastern Tanintharyi area has additionally escalated.
Third, Beijing has despatched a number of excessive stage delegations to Naypyidaw to strain the junta to renew the stalled Kyaukphyu port mission and the railroad and roads that might join it to Yunnan province underneath China’s Belt and Street Initiative of infrastructure lending.
Following the go to by a high Chinese language diplomat, after Min Aung Hlaing was unceremoniously not invited to the Belt and Street’s tenth Anniversary summit in Beijing final month, Naypyidaw solicited tenders for the port mission.
Freeway 3 and 34 are the primary arteries from Mandalay and Naypyitaw to China, and a part of the China-Myanmar Financial Hall. The free commerce zone in Muse-Ruili is at present stalled, and China’s railroad terminates there.
Border commerce with China is critically vital to the junta, as dollar-denominated commerce is just too costly for the sanctioned regime. And people roads are a key conduit for armament imports from China.
Fourth, the seize of border posts ties into the broader query about China’s involvement. All three members of the Brotherhood Alliance have historically been depending on China, which stepped up their strain on them and the KIA this 12 months to stop their army operations towards the army.
China’s particular consultant to Myanmar has convened a number of conferences to strain them to interact the junta and rejoin the peace course of. Whereas they politely refused, in addition they pledged to guard Chinese language financial pursuits.
Operation 1027 clearly demonstrates their company and willingness to withstand Chinese language strain if it goes towards their pursuits.
Fifth, upon capturing Chinshwehaw and two different cities – all havens for cyber scams, human, drug and wildlife trafficking, and unlawful casinos – the MNDAA started to dismantle the felony syndicates. Chinese language have been fleeing Laukkaing, one other hub of illicit exercise, to flee the combating. Radio Free Asia has reported that Thailand is making an attempt to repatriate 162 nationals who had been trafficked to the border crime zones.
Shutting down the crime zones is a big growth in itself. However it would additionally impression the junta’s coffers. A lot of the particular financial zones are managed by native border guards forces who’re allied with the army regime. These former ethnic resistance armies accepted autonomy in return for financial concessions.
The junta is believed to get a big minimize of the proceeds. But when nothing else, the lack of the felony syndicates will dry up the funds essential to administer the border guards forces and maintain their loyalty.
The coup chief vowed to launch a counter offensive. However might he?
Video shared on social media confirmed a big military convoy on the outskirts of Pyin Oo Lwin within the Mandalay area, however freeway 3 and 34 past Lashio can be properly defended by the Brotherhood Alliance.
Morale on either side
The United Wa State Military introduced that they have been impartial within the present battle. Whereas many had hoped that the Wa would be a part of forces, their neutrality might make a military assault from the south by way of territory it controls troublesome.
Lastly, whereas the army is ready to use helicopters to resupply forces in northern Shan, it doesn’t have adequate airlift capability to mount a full scale invasion. And with the lack of 126 camps and their provide of weapons and ammunition, it has few locations from which to stage assaults.
If the army tries to launch a counter-offensive and fails, that can have a big impact on morale inside its ranks, and concurrently trigger an enormous spike within the morale of the NUG and its allies and companions, which have been struggling excessive charges of casualties.
It could additionally probably result in extra defections and desertions of troopers and border guard items that may now not be resupplied.
The army is more likely to reply with extra indiscriminate air strikes and lengthy vary artillery bombardments from a protected distance. Each will end in extra civilian casualties, together with in China, and refugee flows.
Quite than an offensive, we is perhaps witnessing the buildup of troops in a defensive perimeter round Pyin Oo Lain, which is the house of the army’s as soon as prestigious Protection Providers Academy, and thus extremely symbolic.
Min Aung Hlaing will seek for scapegoats and purges and reshuffles will comply with because the army grows determined. Revolutions at all times eat their very own. Will the assembled brass put Min Aung Hlaing out to pasture earlier than he comes for them?
Zachary Abuza is a professor on the Nationwide Battle School in Washington and an adjunct at Georgetown College. The views expressed listed below are his personal and don’t replicate the place of the U.S. Division of Protection, the Nationwide Battle School, Georgetown College or Radio Free Asia.