For the past two years, a string of significant global events, including the Taliban reconquest of Afghanistan, the Russia-Ukraine war, and the Israel-Hamas conflict, have diverted international attention from Myanmar’s turmoil and the Myanmar people’s struggles for democracy. Despite the lack of attention, however, the self-defense efforts of the Myanmar people have highlighted the military’s complete incapacity to consolidate the coup d’etat that it launched in February 2021.
In February 2023, the military administration conceded that it lacked authority over at least 132 of the country’s 330 townships, resulting in the imposition of martial law in at least 44 townships across nine states and regions. This has led one U.S.-based political analyst to argue that the Myanmar military is unlikely to achieve victory in the ongoing conflict. However, the opposition will require international support to successfully overthrow the junta.
To preserve its control, the military has committed a series of human rights abuses, leading to more than 4,500 deaths and the detention of almost 25,000 people. They have also escalated aerial assaults on civilian infrastructure such as schools, hospitals, and places of worship. A recent air strike on a camp housing internally displaced persons in Kachin State killed 39, predominantly women and children, while they were asleep.
Since early July, the Junta has launched a massive offensive operation against the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) headquarters in the town of Laiza. The operation reportedly deployed around 1,500 junta troops but was repelled by the KIA, with the aid of the Arakan Army (AA) and other allies. Soon afterward, several senior military officers from the Northern Regional Command (NRC) were arrested and jailed by the Naypyidaw on allegations of corruption and involvement in the criminal activity.
While the junta’s massive offensive in Kachin State petered out, an unexpected turn of events has now unfolded in the northern part of Shan State, directly to the south of Kachin State. On the morning of October 27, anti-junta forces launched “Operation 1027,” a broad military offensive that could be a turning point in the country’s armed struggle.
‘”Operation 1027” at a Glance
“Operation 1027” was launched by the Three Brotherhood Alliance (3BTA), which comprises the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), and the Arakan Army (AA). Its goal is to combat the junta’s armed forces and allied militias in northern Shan State, close to the Myanmar-China border.
The operation, titled after the date of its commencement, has several military goals. In a statement announcing its offensive, the 3BTA said that the operation was “driven by our collective desire to safeguard the lives of civilians, assert our right of self-defense, maintain control of our territory, and respond resolutely to ongoing artillery attacks and airstrikes” from the Myanmar military. It added that it was “dedicated to eradicating the oppressive military dictatorship, a shared aspiration of the entire Myanmar populace.”
The 3BTA said that it was also intended to suppress the escalating instances of online gambling and fraud throughout the China-Myanmar border region, and to clamp down on the criminal syndicates and junta-affiliated militias that are responsible for them.
Established in 2017, the 3BHA collectively includes a significant fighting force. The MNDAA has around 6,000 members under arms, in addition to around 8,000 for the TNLA. The AA has around 5,000-6,000 soldiers deployed in Kachin State and the northern part of Shan State, in addition to the estimated 30,000 fighters that it has in Rakhine State, its main base of operations. This implies that around 20,000 troops are now taking part in “Operation 1027.” Additionally, some battalions led by the Bamar People’s Liberation Army and the People’s Liberation Army, both of which have been established since the 2021 coup, are also involved in the operation.
Concurrently, various anti-regime militias have expressed support. The Malady-People’s Defense Force (M-PDF) has pledged support for the operation, as has the Mandalay Battalion-4, another anti-junta militia. In southern Myanmar, the Karen National Union has also engaged in hostilities, attempting to seize control of certain military and security installations in Kawkareik town, resulting in fatalities and arrests. A day later, the Defense Ministry of the National Unity Government (NUG) issued a statement affirming its support for the 3BHA operation, as well as their active engagement in the offensive.
“Operation 1027” has seemingly made rapid progress. At approximately 10 a.m. on October 27, the MNDAA successfully took control of Chinshwehaw, a town located near the China-Myanmar border in Laukkaing township, amidst heightened military tensions. By evening, the 3BHA operation had reportedly eradicated all of the regime’s military camps and positions in the Chinshwehaw area. At the same time, the operation took control of at least three regime military outposts, killing 18 soldiers and seizing arms and ammunition from junta troops in the northernmost part of Shan State.
In response, the junta military has resorted to air strikes and other heavy artillery in a bid to stymie the 3BHA offensive. The junta’s artillery shelling has reached the Chinese border, resulting in damage to civilian houses in China. In light of these developments, China’s Foreign Ministry called for an immediate cessation of armed clashes and a peaceful resolution to the conflict. Despite these calls, the operation maintained its momentum, with the Karenni Nationalities People’s Liberation Front (KNPLF) and the “Moe-Goke” battalion of the NUG announcing their support and participation in the 3BHA’s military endeavors. The day was rife with military news and marked by numerous small-scale armed clashes in various regions, including Chin, Karen, and Karenni states and Sagaing and Magwe regions.
Furthermore, the NUG and other pro-federal democracy forces have since commemorated October 27 as marking 1000 days of military rule, using the occasion to intensify their anti-junta activities. Three days into “Operation 1027,” the 3BHA has reportedly taken approximately 57 junta military camps and stations, killing a hundred troops and capturing an additional 10.
By the afternoon of October 29, “Operation 1027” maintained control over Chinshwehaw and had captured two additional military camps east of Lashio in northern Shan State. Concurrently, other allied revolutionary forces reportedly seized all junta outposts surrounding Hsenwi, engaging in ongoing armed clashes within the town itself. Hsenwi holds strategic importance, situated at the intersection of the Lashio-Muse and Lashio-Chinshwehaw highways, running toward the Chinese border.
On the political front, the Karenni National Progressive Party, a prominent armed group in Karenni State, and the National Unity Consultative Council, a leading political coalition, both declared their support for the military operation on October 29. Despite these developments, intense fighting persisted throughout the day, with the junta deploying airstrikes, heavy artillery, and armored vehicles in an attempt to quell the revolutionary offensive.
A Shift in Myanmar’s Armed Revolution?
“Operation 1027” has limited objectives and a regional scale, and its outcome is still too early to determine conclusively. However, it is undeniable that this military operation could have nationwide consequences. Since the military coup in early 2021, Myanmar has found itself in a precarious political situation, with the general population consistently demanding significant and critical change in the country.
Currently, neither the junta nor the pro-democracy forces appear poised to achieve their objectives in the short term, resulting in the sort of military and political deadlock that Francis Fukuyama once described as “dysfunctional equilibrium.” As a result, “Operation 1027” could potentially break the current stalemate in Myanmar’s military and political landscape. There are three key aspects to consider when observing the unfolding ongoing military operation in northern Myanmar.
First, the outcomes of the 3BHA operation will serve as a litmus test for the real military capability of the post-coup military junta. In recent months, many different arguments have been presented concerning the strength of the junta’s military. Some underestimate its strength and capability, while others overstate it. However, it seems the military events unfolding in northern Shan State will offer a real assessment of the junta’s military strength. A loss for the junta could bolster the confidence of opposition resistance forces, potentially leading to the further weakening or even the downfall of the current regime. Conversely, if the junta can save the situation, it could also signal that the end of the military dictatorship in Myanmar remains a distant dream.
Second, the current intensive armed clashes could also have further ramifications on other regions of the country, especially in Rakhine State in western Myanmar. Since the last de facto ceasefire between the AA and the Myanmar military in November 2022, there has been relative stability in the area, with the arrival of Cyclone Mocha on May 14 further lessening the possibility of armed clashes between the two-armed groups.
Given the involvement of the AA in the current military operation, it remains to be seen how the junta leadership will respond to the AA forces within Rakhine State. It is likely that neither the junta nor the AA will want to open another front at this point in time. However, recent weapon and artillery tests by the military in Rakhine have increased tensions and this could lead to unintended consequences. It is also interesting to see how other revolutionary groups might capitalize on the outbreak of fighting in Shan State to advance their own agendas.
Finally, the current campaign will reveal a lot about a possible change in China’s role in Myanmar’s armed politics and conflicts. The current military operations are primarily taking place in areas close to the border with China, and the fact that road blockages by the 3BHA forces will have negative impacts on the trade between the two countries. While China traditionally prefers stability along its borders, it has expressed frustration with the online gambling and fraud operations, which enjoy the protection of the junta’s militias and Border Guard Forces, including the group that controls the Kokang Self-Administered Zone.
Some analysts argue that Chinese officials might be contemplating alternatives to relying solely on the junta and its forces for border security, particularly in the Kokang area. Consequently, some believe that “Operation 1027” received a tacit green light from the Chinese authorities. Yet, on the same day that the operation commenced, the junta took actions seemingly aimed at placating China, arresting around 100 individuals for a cyber scam operation in Yangon. Some junta officials are reported to have visited Beijing on October 28, and junta-run newspapers also claimed that they are cooperating with the Chinese officials to control the situation.
Given these dynamics, it will be crucial to closely monitor China’s response to the unfolding events in the coming days. China’s stance and actions could significantly influence the trajectory of the conflict and the broader geopolitical landscape in the region. In contrast, the 3BHA has captured the attention of both the general population and numerous outside observers. Many are holding onto the hope that these unfolding events might catalyze significant nationwide change. This sentiment is not only shared by the Kokang fighters of the MNDAA, who were driven from the area by the Myanmar military in 2009 and aspire to return home, but also resonates with the broader Myanmar population, who long for some sort of positive change.