Some lessons from the Kachin conflict

tiger-as-editorThe offensive which started in June 2011 against the Chinese border based Kachin Independence Organization/ Kachin Independence Army (KIO/KIA) ended almost 18 months later by the end of January this year.

Having seized key positions around Laiza, the KIO/KIA headquarters, the Tatmadaw’s mission to “clear” and “control” every square inch of the country’s territory was achieved, at least in that section of the land. It doesn’t mean though that the war has ended for the KIA, because it has vowed to return from the disastrous positional warfare to the guerrilla warfare where it holds clear advantage over the Burma Army.

To other armed movements that have been following the offensive against the Kachins, several conclusions have been drawn both militarily and politically.

  • The Burma Army’s firepower has been overwhelming. Thousands of shells especially those of 105 mm howitzers and 120 mm mortars had been thrown against the Kachins without, so it appeared, the least constraint.
  • The KIA bunkers nevertheless were generally secure against them until helicopter gunships  armed with missiles were used against them. There has also been a report that the Burma Army was also using cluster bombs against them. But, according to research made by Network for Democracy and Development (NDD), the Burma Army’s newly formed missile battalions have acquired truck mounted 122 mm and 240 mm multiple rocket launchers. They could also have been them.
  • The Burma Army had isolated the KIA by concluding ceasefire agreements with other major armed movements in order to concentrate all of its available resources against it. According to Sino Burmese border based military analyst Aung Kyaw Zaw, the Burma Army had withdrawn 82 infantry battalions from other fronts to concentrate against Kachin positions. 
  • Countering an offensive against an enemy that has several times more firepower, manpower and money power with a positional warfare is clearly not the answer. For the Kachins, as well as others, it is time to return to the basics that had made them invincible fighting forces.
  • The resistance movements will never be able to fight, let alone win, this kind of war separately.


  • Naypyitaw, or rather Naypyitaw’s ability to handle the Burma Army, has lost the trust of the resistance movements that have concluded truce with it. Now, who, among Naypyitaw’s top government leaders, is going to guarantee there won’t be another offensive in the making against one of them?
Most of them will still certainly continue to make the most of the peace process, but hope of achieving a swift political settlement, if there is any, is out of the question now.

  • Many groups are already seriously talking about stronger alliance. “If we are not able to act collectively now, we will be destroyed individually,” noted Burma expert Bertil Lintner quoted a member of the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), an alliance of 11 armed organizations, as saying.

Let’s hope they are really going to walk the walk this time.


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