Myanmar’s military appears to be sustaining increasing casualties in its attempt to put down the spreading armed resistance to its February coup, as attacks by a proliferation of civilian militia groups against junta facilities and personnel continue to gain momentum.
The Irrawaddy reported yesterday that around 90 junta soldiers were killed during intense clashes with civilian resistance fighters over the weekend. The report detailed several different engagements in in Sagaing and Magwe regions as well as in Kayah State.
These included an ambush on two military vehicles carrying reinforcements in Sagaing’s Myaung township which killed “at least 35 junta soldiers” and another in Magwe Region in which civilian fighters ambushed a military convoy and then engaged in an 11-hour firefight in which at least 20 junta soldiers were killed. This was followed by the news that five soldiers, including a commander died and several were injured in ambushes and mine attacks by civilian resistance fighters in Sagaing Region’s Pale Township this morning and yesterday.
In a separate article last week, The Irrawaddy reported that more than 40 junta troops were killed and another 30 injured on the evening of October 5, when civilian resistance fighters belonging to a group calling itself the Yaw Defense Force ambushed a military convoy.
The rash of attacks has prompted the military administration to deploy at least four battalions of reinforcements, consisting of around 3,000 soldiers, to conduct “clearance operations” in Sagaing and Magwe regions, in addition to parts of neighboring Chin State.
The recent attacks have been led by a decentralized resistance made up of more than 340 local People’s Defense Forces (PDFs), which have mushroomed across the country since the February 1 coup. Most of these groups have pledged their loyalty to the NUG and the unified PDF that it set up in May to protect civilians and coordinate an armed resistance to the military government, although not all are under its direct command.
The attacks have increased in both frequency and intensity since the opposition National Unity Government (NUG) last month declared a “people’s defensive war” against the junta, declaring the entire nation to be under a state of emergency “until the resumption of civilian rule.”
Last week, the NUG’s Ministry of Home Affairs and Immigration reported that 1,562 soldiers had been killed and 552 wounded in 132 attacks by ethnic armed groups and civilian resistance fighters since September 7, the date that it announced the nationwide uprising. This was more than double the death toll of the month earlier. According to Radio Free Asia, resistance fighters also knocked out more than 120 army-owned telecom towers over the same period.
These casualty figures are hard to verify, and the NUG has every incentive to err on the side of overestimating the number of casualties – just as the junta does in downplaying them. But the weight of anecdotal evidence, newspaper reportage, and photos and videos posted on social media all suggest that last month’s “D-Day” announcement has pushed the anti-coup resistance into a new and more intense phase of armed struggle.
In particular, the attacks appear to be growing more daring. In late September, resistance fighters set off a bomb at a military facility in the capital Naypyidaw. Responsibility for the attack was claimed by the Naypyidaw PDF, which operates under the command of the parallel NUG Ministry of Defense. While no one was injured in the attack, it showed the ability of the resistance to reach into the very heart of the junta’s base of power.
Similarly, this past weekend, civilian militias set off at least a dozen explosions in the country’s largest city Yangon, hitting targets including a naval base, police stations, and a courthouse. The attacks coincided with a visit to the city by junta supremo Sen. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, who, according to The Irrawaddy, was in town “to urge authorities to implement serious security measures.”
As I’ve argued before, the anti-coup forces are unlikely to succeed in defeating the Tatmadaw outright, short of serious internal dissension or mass defections from the rank and file. However, they certainly possess the ability to impede the normal functions of government and prevent the consolidation of the February coup, as the past eight months have shown. The growing frequency of attacks on the junta and its personnel suggest that the NUG’s phase of armed struggle is deadly serious, and only just beginning.