Operation 1027

Published:  08:28 AM, 19 November 2023

Can Myanmar’s Resistance Topple the Regime?

Can Myanmar’s Resistance Topple the Regime? People in Myanmar are demonstrating to restore democracy and for the release of Aung San Su Kyi. -Collected

 Nur Mohammad Sheikh

A number of noteworthy worldwide events over the last two years, such as the Israel-Hamas conflict, the Russia-Ukraine war, and the Taliban's reconquest of Afghanistan, have drawn attention away from the unrest in Myanmar. The self-defense actions of the people of Myanmar, despite receiving little notice, have brought to light the military's total inability to solidify the coup d'etat that it initiated in February 2021.

The Junta has been conducting a large onslaught against the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) headquarters in the town of Laiza since the beginning of July. It is estimated that 1,500 junta troops were used in the operation, but it was unsuccessful. An unexpected development has occurred in the northern region of Shan State, which is directly south of Kachin State, as the junta's major attack in Kachin State was waning. "Operation 1027," a massive military offensive that could represent a turning point in the nation's armed conflict, was launched by anti-junta forces early on October 27.

The Arakan Army (AA), the Ta'ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), and the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) compose the Three Brotherhood Alliance (3BTA), which initiated "Operation 1027." According to 3BTA, the operation was motivated by the shared goal of protecting civilian lives, upholding our right to self-defense, retaining territorial integrity, and retaliating decisively against continuous airstrikes and artillery attacks by the Myanmar military. "Dedicated to eradicating the oppressive military dictatorship, a shared aspiration of the entire Myanmar populace," the statement continued.

The 3BHA was founded in 2017 and consists of a sizable fighting force. In addition to the 8,000 or so members of the TNLA, the MNDAA has about 6,000 members. The AA maintains an estimated 30,000 combatants in Rakhine State, its primary operating base, in addition to 5,000–6,000 soldiers in Kachin State and the northern portion of Shan State. This suggests that 20,000 or so soldiers are currently engaged in "Operation 1027."

The operation has advanced dramatically thus far. Numerous army units have submitted without a fight. The coalition asserted on Saturday that it had captured over 168 military outposts as well as seven towns, including Hsenwi, which is situated across the road from Muse, the principal entry point into China, and the border crossing at Chinshwehaw.

The operation has spread across the northern Shan, Kachin, northern Sagaing and Mandalay regions. Large amounts of ammunition and weapons have been seized. In support of this operation, other PDFs and EAOs have also stepped-up attack on Junta position in many other parts of the country.

China has been sending a strong message to Myanmar's generals since May: hosting international forced labor fraud syndicates in Myanmar that traffic thousands of people and steal and launder billions of dollars monthly from a worldwide victim population is intolerable. Beijing insisted on military command of its border guard units (BGFs), which were housing the enclaves used for scams. The junta did not just disregard Chinese requests. It did nothing except watch as the BGF in Karen state stepped up its covert support for its obviously illegal activities along the Thai border and as the BGF in Kokang, which was founded by coup leader Min Aung Hlaing during a 2009 military action, intensified its illegal activities directly at China's doorstep.

China increased the stakes during the summer by approving popular films that highlight the instability in Myanmar and reveal the stories of Chinese citizens who become entangled in the thousands of forced-labor scam compounds that are currently bordering Myanmar's borders. The three movies, "No More Bets," "Tainted Love," and "Lost in the Stars," have made over $1 billion at the box office and convey the idea that Chinese nationals can only feel comfortable in Southeast Asia with China's assistance.

On Chinese TV, Junta representatives voiced their disapproval, saying the media had "hyped up the issue" and that the movies damaged Myanmar's reputation. They made the argument that rather than sending police, China should send tourists to help Myanmar with its economic issues.

Chinese officials estimate that at least US$ 40 billion has been siphoned from the country as a result of frauds. Beijing, fed up, began acting unilaterally in September, focusing on two border enclaves with the highest levels of autonomy from the central government: the Wa and Mong La sections of Northern Shan State. Situated inside China's sphere of influence, both are firmly under the control of powerful regional forces. In the Wa's case, they employ currency, power, phones, internet, and banking systems manufactured in China. A large number of elites in both disciplines have national ID cards issued by China, and the majority of their training was completed there.

China therefore found it quite easy to confront both parties directly and use coercion to compel them to take immediate action to quit running scams. In mid-September, 1,207 members of the for-profit organizations were exiled to China. As soon as possible, China arrested the favorite nephew of the Wa leader, the deputy commander of the United Wa State Army, and issued arrest warrants for two high-ranking Wa officials associated with supreme Wa leader Bao Youxiang, alleging they were "kingpins" behind crime syndicates operating in Wa territory.

As retaliation, the Wa stormed more than 40 fraud compounds and turned over over 4,000 people—many of them foreigners—to China. Tens of thousands of computers and phones containing millions of pieces of intelligence on the fraud syndicates were also made available to the Chinese side.
The junta in Kokang did not act on its out-of-control phony BGF because of China's historically bold action against Wa and Mong La. The junta persisted in its obstinacy even after China lured a group of Kokang elites to a cross-border folk festival and marathon in September and arrested 11 of them, including Liu Zhengqi, CEO of the Fullylight Group, one of the most notorious organizers of Kokang scam complexes.

Binding close ties with Min Aung Hlaing, Liu Zhengqi is a well-known coup government operative and a committee member of both the Kokang Self-Administered Zone (SAZ) and the military political party USDP. The Kokang was thought to be holding 20,000–30,000 captives in more than 100 prison complexes throughout a region the size of Rhode Island; by mid-October, China was not delighted to hear that just 377 of them had been liberated.

However, the Brotherhood Alliance recognized their chance and launched an offensive, pledging to close the con centers in order to appease China. China has made public calls for a truce, but the alliance claims yet to have heard directly from the Chinese government asking for an end to hostilities.

The TNLA has long wanted to expand the area it controls beyond  the small Ta'ang-self-administrated zone allotted to them in the constitution. While the MNDAA wants to recover the control of 'Laukkaing' and the adjacent border which it lost in a military operation in 2009, one led by none other that Myanmar's military chief Min Aung Hlaing.

The Arakan Army (AA), as expected, also took the opportunity and has started attacking junta posts in Rakhine, breaking an informal truce back in November 2022.

First and foremost, the results of the 3BHA operation will act as a yardstick for evaluating the post-coup military junta's true military prowess. The strength of the junta's military has been the subject of numerous debates in recent months. Some people exaggerate its power and potential, while others undervalue it. Nonetheless, it appears that a true evaluation of the junta's military might will come from the military events taking place in northern Shan State. A setback for the junta might give opposing resistance forces more confidence, which could cause the current regime to deteriorate much further or perhaps topple. On the other hand, if the junta is able to salvage the situation, it might also indicate that the military rule in Myanmar is still a long way off.

Secondly, the military's historical hegemony over personnel and equipment is under threat from evolving security conditions and the advancements being made by the resistance movement. Given their difficulties in holding onto bases, it is evident that the Myanmar military's capacity for coercion has deteriorated.

In conclusion, it is critical to comprehend China's position in this. China's ability to influence ethnic armies' activities when it has the political will to do so has never been in dispute. China's arrest orders caused the Wa to deprive its officials of their status without raising any objections. Chinese readiness to jail Kokang SAC officials and prominent Wa leaders shows the extent of Chinese authority to compel actors in Myanmar to comply.

Large swaths of Myanmar's border with China may come under the control of ethnic armed groups who are significantly dependent on the PRC due to the decline of Myanmar army control in the country's north and the potential for MNDAA to retake Kokang. EAOs' stance in upcoming talks for a new national agreement will be strengthened by their increasing relative power and influence.

For border security, especially in the Kokang region, some commentators argue that Chinese officials may be considering options other than depending entirely on the junta and its military. As such, there are others who maintain that "Operation 1027" was given the go-ahead in secret by Chinese authorities. On October 28, junta-run newspapers said that certain officials had visited Beijing and that they were working with Chinese officials to maintain control over the situation.

A close watch on China's reaction to the events that are transpiring in the next several days will be imperative given these dynamics. Both the course of the conflict and the overall geopolitical environment in the area may be greatly impacted by China's position and sactions. But the 3BHA has drawn interest from a wide range of outside observers as well as the general public. There is a persistent belief among many that the current events could serve as a catalyst for substantial changes in the country. The general Myanmar populace, who yearns for some kind of constructive transformation, shares this emotion as well as the MNDAA's Kokang fighters, who were driven out of the region by the Myanmar military in 2009 and hope to return home.

Nur Mohammad Sheikh is a
teacher and a security
affairs analyst.k

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