The massive buildup of its presence in Kachin State by the Tatmadaw or Burma Army (BA) has been ongoing without any letup since the 1990’s, despite the 17-year period of ceasefire with the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) from 1994-2011. From a mere 15 infantry battalions stationed in major towns in Kachin State before 1990, a staggering 100 plus battalions are currently deployed in Kachin State. The buildup continues with more and more troops arriving each day, as the BA intensifies its push to clear the KIO from its areas of control, agreed upon under the terms of the 1994 ceasefire.
A Chronology of BA military buildup and clashes with the KIA
Pre-1990, Before the Ceasefire Period
There were only 15 Infantry battalions before 1990 in Kachin state. Namely, the Monyin-based 15th LIB, the Myitkyina-based 21st LIB, 29th LIB, and 37th LIB, the Hopin-based 40th LIB, the Putao-based 46th LIB, the Bhamo-based 47th LIB, the Shwegu-based 56th LIB, the Waimaw-based 58th LIB, the Mogaung-based 74th LIB, the Danai-based 86th LIB, the Samaw-based 105th LIB, the 9th Medical Battalion (Se Tat Yin), the 727th Transportation Battalion (Htauk Pant Po Saung Ye Tat Yin), the 901st Engineer Battalion (Ingin Ni Yar Tat Yin) and the 616th Communication Battalion (Set Twe Ye Tat Yin).
In 1991-92, the 3rd Military Operations Command (MOC-3), which comprised of 9 Infantry regiments and 1 battalion, was established at Thit Kyar Taung, located between Namti and Mogaung.
In 1993-94, a Regional Operations Command (ROC) was established in Bhamo.
The Ceasefire Period, 1994-2011
The KIO and then Burmese military government (State Peace and Development Council) signed a ceasefire agreement on Feb 24, 1994 in Myitkyina.
In 1995, the 21st Military Operations Command (MOC-21), which comprised of 10 battalions, was established at Danai.
In 2001, the Bhamo-based Regional Operations Command was moved to Danai to become the Danai Regional Operations Command, and the 21st Military Operations Command was moved from Danai to Bhamo. The Northern Command’s administration extended to the Momeik region. The 601 LIR was deployed in Mansi and Shwegu. The 904th Artillery Operations Command was established in Monyin.
Nos. 7004, 7005, and 7006 armoured units were established in Gatchang Yang, Monyin, and Bhamo.
The No. 503 Air Defence Command became the Nam Paung Air Defence Command under which a flight training school and a fighter jet group were set up.
After 2005, a radar and air defense command was set up at Bilukyun in Monyin.
In total, the number of BA battalions increased from 26 battalions in 1994, to 41 battalions in 2006 during the ceasefire period.
Military bases and troop deployments again dramatically increased after 2010.
In January 2011, an Infantry unit from the BA’s 141st LIB came close to the KIA’s 5th battalion HQ ostensibly to provide security for road construction.
In February 2011, the BA’s 15th LIB commander was injured by a landmine as his motorcade approached the KIA’s 27th Battalion HQ.
(Photo Credit: KDNG)
Renewed War, 2011 – 2018
On June 9, 2011, BA troops under the 21st MOC and the Momeik Tactical Command launched an attack on the KIA communication office in San Gang and fighting erupted with KIA 15th battalion troops, ending 17 years of ceasefire.
On June 12, 2011, the KIO Central Committee gave orders for KIA forces to open fire on BA troops to defend themselves.
In July- August 2011, BA troops under the 21st MOC entered KIA 12th Battalion, 27th Battalion and 3rd Brigade areas, and BA troops under the 3rd MOC entered the KIA headquarters area. 76mm and 105 mm howitzers and 120 mm mortars were deployed in BA bases in Gangdau Yang and Dawhpum Yang.
In October 2011, 3 battalions from BA’s Mandalay-based Northwestern Command and 2 battalions from the Northern Command were deployed in the KIA’s 2nd Brigade area. By December 2011, almost all BA battalions and regiments under the Magway-based 88th LID and Meiktila-based 99th LID were deployed in KIA 3rd and 5th Brigade areas.
By December 2011, 10 battalions under the BA’s Northwestern Command were deployed in the KIA 2nd Brigade area.
In 2012, there were 879 encounters between KIA and BA troops, with intense battles waged.
In Aug 2012, 1 Tactical Command and 3 battalions from the BA’s Pathein-based Southwestern Command were deployed in the Namchi Maw area.
In 2012, 6 battalions from BA’s Northern Command, 4 battalions from 88th LID and BGF forces attacked KIA positions in Chihpwi and Sawlaw while BA’s MI-35 attack helicopters and G-4 Super Galeb attack fighters provided cover for the ground troops.
In November 2012, 8 battalions and 2 tactical commands under the Sagaing-based 33rd LID entered the KIA’s 1st Brigade area and conducted multiple operations.
In November and December 2012, BA troops under 3rd MOC, 21st MOC, 88th LID, 99th LID, and 101st LID together with fighter jets and attack helicopters launched a major attack against KIA positions around its headquarters.
After BA troops occupied the KIA’s Hkaya Bum post, then President U Thein Sein announced an end to military operations in the Laja Yang area on 19th January 2013. But the BA’s military operations continued across the Kachin region.
In 2013, BA’s 33rd LID and Hpegon-based 7th Military Operations Command were deployed in the KIA headquarters area. Pyay-based 66th LID replaced 101st LID in the Hpakant area. BA troops under Theinni-based 16th MOC and 21st MOC were deployed in the KIA’s 3rd Brigade area and conducted several operations against KIA 12th and 27th battalions.
At least 16 Infantry Battalions from the 16th Military Operations Command (MOC-16) and 21st Military Operations Command (MOC-21), took part in a major operation against KIA bases in Mansi township in Nov 2013.
In February 2014, 4 battalions from BA’s 88th LID and 6 battalions from 16th Military Operations Command attacked the KIA’s 12th and 27th battalions HQ. In the same year, 10 battalions from the Northwestern Command were deployed along the Myitkyina-Sumprabum and Myitkyina-Monyin roads.
Intense battles raged between BA troops from 15th LIB, 47th, 48th LIB, 86th LIB, 105th LIB, 121st LIB, 276th LIB, 318th LIR, 319th LIR, 438th LIR, 601st LIR, 602nd LIR and KIA troops from 1st, 12th, 15th and 27th Battalions in southern Kachin State in September 2015.
In November 2015, the BA launched a major assault on the KIA’s 8th Brigade headquarters in Monyin township with multiple Infantry Battalions from Northern Regional Command and 3rd Military Operations Command taking part, while BA fighter jets and helicopters pounded KIA positions.
In October-December 2016, the KIA 252nd Mobile Battalion’s Gidon post and 3rd Battalion’s Lai Hpawng post were attacked by over 3000 BA Infantry troops from Mogaung-based 3rd Military Operations Command (MOC-3), Northern Regional Military Command (NRMC), Infantry Battalions under the Pathein-based South Western Regional Command, Mandalay-based Central Regional Command and Kalay-based Regional Operations Command. The KIO released a statement on the 8th of October 2016 , saying that “the Tatmadaw has launched numerous attacks using disproportionate force including heavy air strikes in order to capture KIA’s Gidon post.”
In 2017, the Laiza KIO headquarters area was further encroached upon by an increase in deployment of several BA battalions. BA troops from 27th LIB, 38th LIB, 40th LIB, 47th LIB, 51st LIB, 56th LIB, 63rd LIB, 93rd LIB, 142nd LIB, 308th LIR, 309th LIR, 321st LIR, 381st LIR, 382nd LIR, 383rd LIR, 384th LIR, 385th LIR, and 388th LIR were stationed around the Laiza area during that time.
Beginning early April 2018, the BA launched a major operation against KIA bases under 4th Battalion, 6th Battalion, 11th Battalion, 14th Battalion, 26th Battalion, 1st Brigade and 2nd Brigade, seizing several KIA bases and displacing over 6,000 Kachin civilians from their homes in western and central Kachin state.
Number of Clashes between the KIA and the BA, June 2011 – April 2018
There were 663 encounters that included artillery and landmine attacks between the KIA and the BA in 2011, 879 encounters in 2012, 224 encounters in 2013, and 155 encounters in 2014.
Fighting between the KIA and the BA escalated after the NLD was elected as government in 2015. In 2015, there were 634 encounters, 740 encounters in 2016, and 361 encounters in 2017. There have been 148 encounters between from January to April 2018.
BA Troop Deployment in Kachin State
Currently, 8 BA battalions from 3rd Military Operations Command, 2 battalions from 21st Military Operations Command, 5 battalions from Southwestern Command, 4 battalions from Northwestern Command, and 5 battalions from Northern Command are being deployed in the KIA headquarters area of Laiza.
9 BA battalions from the Northern Command and a number of battalions from 33rd LID are deployed in the KIA’s 1st and 7th Brigade areas in eastern Kachin state.
At least 9 BA battalions under the Northern Command, 10 battalions from 101st LID, 7 battalions from the Northwestern Command, 2 battalions from 3rd MOC, 2 battalions from 7th MOC are being deployed in the KIA’s 2nd and 8th Brigade areas in western Kachin state.
7 BA battalions under the Northern Command, 8 battalions from the 21st MOC, 4 battalions from the Pegu-based 77th LID, 6 battalions from the Magwe-based 88th LID, 1 battalion from the Madalay-based Central Command are being deployed in KIA’s 3rd Brigade area in southern Kachin state.
In total, there are about 100 BA battalions currently deployed in Kachin state with more troops arriving each day by train, ship and car.
About 150,000 Kachin civilians have been displaced since the renewed war began in June 2011. Hundreds of civilians and thousands of soldiers from both sides have lost their lives. Still, the BA continues with its militarization by deploying more and more troops and sending more military equipment to Kachin State. A silent war on KIA and Kachin civilians is being waged with little media coverage and a lack of interest from the international community. Kachin villagers in remote areas are constantly having to live in fear of violence, abuse, and reprisals. Thousands of them have been driven out of their homes into the jungle and IDP camps almost every day.
The NLD-led civilian government has shown a distinct inability or lack of interest to rein in the BA’s military operations against ethnic armed organizations which truly represent their respective peoples’ struggles for equality and justice. The Kachin State’s immediate neighbors, China and India, given their own strategic and economic interests in the State, have largely overlooked Kachin civilians’ suffering, often driving out refugees when a few villagers happened to cross into their borders for refuge, and concentrating instead on supplying the BA with modern military hardware.
Over 70 years of military engagement has shown that it is no way to solve Burma’s fundamental issue of ethnic inequality. Still, the BA continues with its colonization of ethnic nationality regions, and responding to ethnic calls for equality with military means. It is high time for nations that value liberty, equality and justice to really stand for the aspirations of ethnic nationalities struggling for their basic rights in Burma.