Myanmar’s ruling military faces attacks on multiple fronts across its borders as an alliance of ethnic minority insurgent groups combines with pro-democracy fighters to try to capture territory and challenge the junta’s rule.
Why did the fighting break out?
On October 27, an alliance of ethnic minority groups launched coordinated attacks on military posts in northern Shan State, on the border with China, and seized several towns, in an operation they called 1027, referring to the date on which the attack began.
The “Alliance of the Three Brotherhoods,” as the group is known, said its aim was to “safeguard civilian lives, assert our right to self-defense, maintain control over our territory and respond resolutely to continued artillery and air strikes” by the junta. .
He was also “dedicated to eradicating the oppressive military dictatorship”, he said, and committed to combating fraudulent online gambling centers on the Myanmar-China border, which involve thousands of foreign workers, many of them against their will.
China, which has significant influence in the region, has called for an end to the fighting and has been pressuring the junta to dismantle illicit businesses that have made many Chinese victims of fraud, some even slavery. Some analysts and diplomats say it is unlikely that the 1027 offensive could have been carried out without China’s blessing.
Why was Operation 1027 significant?
Although fighting has raged in several regions of Myanmar since the generals seized power in a coup d’état in 2021, the scale of the new offensive represents the biggest military challenge to the junta’s government, expanding its forces on several fronts.
The alliance comprises three groups with extensive combat experience – the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and the Arakan Army (AA).
It is important to highlight that they were also joined by members of the so-called people’s defense forces, a loosely organized movement supported by Myanmar’s parallel government, the National Unity Government (NUG). This indicates a level of planning and coordination not seen since the coup, with militias also helping, frustrating the military’s resupply efforts.
The attacks in Shan State were followed by the opening of a front by the AA against the military at its base in Rakhine State, despite a ceasefire agreed a year ago, with insurgent attacks in Kayah State, on the border with Thailand, and in the Sagaing region and Chin State, on the border with Thailand. India.
How serious is the threat the junta faces?
It is too early to predict the extent to which military dominance in the rest of the country may be under threat, analysts say.
The generals have ruled Myanmar for five of the past six decades and have a history of combining battlefield power with divide-and-rule strategies to control from the center and keep formidable border rebellions in check.
But the 1027 offensive left an army well equipped and with decades of experience fighting insurgencies.
There are signs that it is emboldening the armed opposition, with the rebels testing the vulnerabilities of security forces in several regions, exploiting the junta’s slow response and the ease with which its troops gave up dozens of posts and allowed light weapons, ammunition , machine guns and even armored vehicles. to be seized.
The operation was applauded in Myanmar and closely followed on social media, challenging military narratives about its invincibility. The reclusive junta had no choice but to admit that it is being tested, with the admission of its appointed president that the country was at risk of disintegrating.
What is likely to happen?
With its reputation at stake, the junta is unlikely to give in easily and risk a domino effect of challenges to its authority in more regions of a country where its government is deeply unpopular.
The military has superior firepower and resources, including air assets and artillery, and can attempt to mount a decisive response to crush the rebellion.
A big decision for the military will be where to position its assets and carry out airstrikes. Security forces are already overwhelmed by extensive armed opposition and a strong response on one front could expose the military elsewhere.
Protracted fighting will test the staying power and arsenals of both sides. A likely scenario would see the junta lose control of some border regions while remaining in power centrally, an outcome that would be favorable to neighbors India, Thailand and China, who are concerned about instability and the prospect of a refugee crisis.