Source Fulcrum

SINGAPORE CITY, Singapore: A key offensive launched by a three-party alliance of anti-junta forces in late October catalysed attacks on State Administration Council (SAC) forces on multiple fronts across Myanmar. While the junta has vowed to strike back to retake lost ground, no major operation has since materialised. It remains to be seen whether resistance forces will be able to capitalise on their gains to evolve into a more cohesive anti-junta movement.
On 27 October, the military offensive by the Three Brotherhood Alliance (3BHA), composed of the Arakan Army (AA), Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), took SAC forces by surprise and upended the conflict landscape in Shan State. Caught off-guard, the SAC lost control of 202 military outposts and five townships across northern Shan State as of 3 December. Key trade routes to China are now in 3BHA hands. Despite the SAC chief’s statement vowing a counter-offensive, SAC troop operations in Shan State have primarily been on the defensive, with no major operation yet to retake lost ground. The turnaround is quite remarkable. Since the February 2021 coup, Myanmar’s Shan State which has been a crucial link for uninterrupted border trade with China amidst the violence following the coup, has remained relatively stable, except for sporadic clashes in the north.
One factor behind the lack of a concerted response from SAC forces could be the lack of combat experience. Myanmar has been in a constant state of warfare since gaining independence in 1948, with the military engaged in conflicts with multiple actors throughout this period. However, peace deals with major ethnic armed organisations in the 1990s freed up Myanmar’s military regimes to shift their attention towards civilian politics. Even the SAC chief, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, can claim experience from only one major battle: driving out the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA, now part of the 3BHA) from Kokang region in 2009.
Adding to Operation 1027’s surprise element, resistance forces across the nation have opened new fronts against the SAC. In Kayah state, the Karenni Nationalities Defence Force (KNDF) is making a bid to seize the state capital Loikaw from SAC control. In Chin state, local Chin ethnic resistance groups have launched an offensive operation aimed at consolidating control along the India-Myanmar border. In the Sagaing region, the People’s Defense Forces (PDF), allied with the civilian resistance coalition National Unity Government, have seized their first district (or secondary administrative division) centre. The Arakan Army (AA), a member of the 3BHA, has also initiated another major offensive in Rakhine state.
Attempts to retake lost territories may be further hampered by the military’s lack of preparedness for the evolving military landscape within Myanmar. In response to the Myanmar military’s monopoly on firepower, resistance groups turned to weaponised commercial drones
The SAC also requires troops for garrison duties across the country to monitor potential protests by communities suffering from the SAC’s economic mismanagement. The Myanmar military, which has long struggled with recruitment shortages and understrength battalions, now faces an overstretch of manpower. This situation effectively leaves the Myanmar military with fewer reserve troops to spare for a major operation capable of retaking lost territories and reopening trade routes. The regime recently ordered civil servants and former military personnel to mobilise into units, purportedly for “emergency situations” such as “natural disasters and security.” Spouses and relatives of rank-and-file military personnel are being assigned patrol duties and combat training.
Attempts to retake lost territories may be further hampered by the military’s lack of preparedness for the evolving military landscape within Myanmar. In response to the Myanmar military’s monopoly on firepower, resistance groups turned to weaponised commercial drones. Starting from small-scale drone strikes aimed at enhancing intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities, resistance groups used more sophisticated large-scale drone swarm attacks in Operation 1027. Even Min Aung Hlaing acknowledged the effectiveness of 3BHA’s drone attacks at the National Defence and Security Council meeting on 8 November.
According to a recent interview conducted by BBC Burmese with regime troops involved in actions in northern Shan state, 3BHA deployed dozens — sometimes up to 40 — drones in each operation, for continuous bombing. The SAC’s anti-drone warfare relies on simple jamming devices, which are ineffective against more advanced drones reverse-engineered by resistance members. The technology gap between the SAC troops and resistance forces may help explain some of the hasty abandonment of the Myanmar military’s outposts and bases, leaving behind a substantial quantity of weapons and ammunition.
However, it is also important to note that, before and after the coup, the Myanmar military sought to modernise its arsenal, securing MiG-29s for the air force from Russia and submarines from India and China for the navy. But there was little effort to enhance the capabilities of the infantry. As a result, thinly-spread infantry units across the country relied heavily on air and artillery support. A recent example is the military’s recent counter-offensive in Rakhine State, where retaking the coastal town of Pauktaw from the Arakan Army required extensive naval fire support, air strikes, and artillery cover. In Shan State, where the hilly terrain and weather do not favour the effective deployment of SAC airpower, SAC troops struggled to counter Operation 1027 advances.
Despite the ongoing successes of the resistance forces against the SAC, the SAC retains its considerable firepower. The National Unity Government’s strategy of revenue denial, including targeted sanctions on the SAC’s capital sources, is aimed at undermining the SAC’s ability to wage war effectively. But the strategic approach of the resistance demands sustained and coordinated efforts from its various factions, each driven by their own varying interests, to collectively achieve the ambitious goal of overthrowing SAC. This might be a tall order given the differing interests involved.