‘Operation 1027’: The End of the Beginning of Myanmar’s Spring Revolution

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‘Operation 1027’: The End of the Beginning of Myanmar’s Spring Revolution

The dramatic events of the past month reflect the junta’s waning legitimacy, but the battle for the country’s future is only just beginning.

‘Operation 1027’: The End of the Beginning of Myanmar’s Spring Revolution

Ammunition and supplies allegedly recovered by the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) after overrunning a Myanmar army outpost in northern Shan State, November 21, 2023.

Credit: Facebook/The Kokang

Coming nearly three years after the military coup d’état of February 1, 2021, “Operation 1027” marks a defining moment in Myanmar’s revolution. This operation is not merely a military offensive; it is also a symbol of the enduring spirit and resourcefulness of Myanmar’s peoples and their People’s Defense Forces (PDFs), their burgeoning alliances with the country’s long-established ethnic armed organizations (EAOs), and the unflagging public support for the struggle.

Resource Resilience and Public Support

The first remarkable fact about “Operation 1027” is that it represents an increase in offensives by the PDF and EAOs, contradicting any notions of fatigue within the revolution. Despite the prolonged nature of the struggle, public support has apparently grown, infusing the PDFs with the resources and morale necessary to continue their fight. This runs counter to narratives suggesting the operation was a result of external influences, particularly from China, which has been pressuring the military regime to deal with the cross-border gangs doing telecom frauds in eastern Myanmar. Such analyses ignore the intrinsic motivations and the deep-rooted resistance of Myanmar’s peoples, which are the real reasons for the revolution’s endurance.

Most observers have given credit to the Three Brotherhood Alliance (or Northern Alliance), which includes the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), and the Arakan Army (AA) for bringing “new energy” to the revolution. While their involvement is certainly crucial, it should not be forgotten that newer groups such as Mandalay PDF, under the command of the National Unity Government (NUG), and the Bamar People’s Liberation Army (BPLA) have taken part in the offensive in northern Shan State. In fact, as a Burmese saying goes, the involvement of the Alliance is like “when the buffalo swims, the water flows.”

The buffalo here is the revolution, which has evolved to a stage where it has become necessary for the EAOs to get involved and fight. While these groups have been providing training to the newly emerging armed groups, they were initially reluctant to open a front against the Myanmar military. That has now changed.

Shortly after the coup, some politicians and analysts portrayed Myanmar’s crisis as a mere conflict between supporters of the National League for Democracy (NLD) and the Myanmar military. These same analysts are now attributing the success of Operation 1027 to external factors. However, this China-centric perspective undermines the agency and commitment of the Myanmar public as well as the structural material conditions that have led the revolution to this stage and therefore should be categorically rejected.

The Changing Calculus

Since the coup, EAOs like the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and the Karen National Union (KNU) have actively supported the revolution. Their involvement has ranged from training young protesters and providing sanctuary to displaced members of parliament to getting involved in various consultative councils. Initially, however, there were also factions within KNU and other EAOs that did not have confidence in the revolution and made deals with the military regime. But the junta’s growing aggressiveness and strong public support for the revolution has made the positions of these EAOs untenable. Even so, the situation on the ground was not conducive for the EAOs to engage in combat in the early days of 2021, nor was there a military alliance prepared to fight collectively.

After two years of struggle by the PDFs in different regions of Myanmar, which involved both the extension of control over territories in rural areas and guerrilla tactics in urban centers, the Myanmar military has become stretched thin. As the military scrambled to mount an effective response to PDFs all over the country, military-affiliated Telegram channels increasingly called for the regime to bomb Laiza, the headquarters of the KIA in Kachin State. On October 9, of this year, the military bombed Mung Lai Hkyet, just three kilometers north of Laiza. It is in this context that the emergence of Operation 1027 should be viewed. What KIA commander Gen. Gun Maw said about the military’s aggression near Laiza is particularly telling. He said in an interview that the war had reached the KIA’s doorsteps and that a military response had become a necessity. In this light, Operation 1027 should be viewed as an outgrowth of the revolution’s own momentum, rather than as the result of Chinese involvement. It signifies the ripening of a nationwide movement into a unified military front, a culmination of years of resistance and the indomitable spirit of Myanmar’s people.

A Knife Will Snap; A Spear Will Curl

The operational successes of the past month also reflect the regime’s waning legitimacy. As a well-known Burmese verse goes, the use of force by a ruler lacking the people’s support will only result in a broken knife or a curled spear. The military junta’s authority is further crumbling under the weight of nearly unanimous public opposition, as evidenced by the defections and surrender of its soldiers during Operation 1027. For groups like the TNLA and the MNDAA, which represent minorities within the ethnic mosaic of Shan State, the revolution presents a pivotal moment. The MNDAA, in particular, has seen its territories eroded by military campaigns in the past. Now, as the revolution gains momentum like a rising tide, they find an opportunity to reclaim lost ground and assert their place within the state’s future. The claim of targeting Chinese telecommunications frauds and gambling businesses serves as a politically expedient justification for the current offensive.

How far the current multi-front coordinated offensives will go depends largely on the public response. The AA, for instance, has to navigate this complexity when opening a front in Rakhine State, bearing in mind that the Rakhine public has had to endure repeated armed and communal conflicts in recent years. However, with the public’s resolve as yet showing no signs of abating, we can anticipate further strategic offensives.

The military, plagued by deteriorating morale and defections, seems incapable of countering the rising tide of the revolution, which is coordinating attacks across political, military, and diplomatic fronts. The involvement of civilians and the strong public support make a huge difference in these asymmetric offensives against an enemy with superior firepower.

For example, medical professionals from the Civil Disobedience Movement have become unsung heroes of the revolution, providing care to the wounded, raising funds, and connecting the PDF groups to the wider Myanmar diaspora. The participation of civilians has introduced a variety of skills that were previously absent among the established EAOs. For instance, the prominent use of drones in Operation 1027 was popularized by the PDFs, which included many university students. Even the spokesperson for the military junta acknowledged the effectiveness of this drone warfare, stating that the military is now taking measures to protect its infantry units against drone attacks. A purely military analysis, focusing only on the EAOs or the role of China, misses all these important nuances and the bigger picture, as do the reports portraying this as “ethnic fights,” as if the struggle is still an ethnic conflict between the Myanmar military and minority ethnic groups.

The End of the Beginning

Going forward, we anticipate more coordinated offensives and alliance formations. While the Myanmar military may increasingly depend on air power, its inability to effectively conduct ground operations makes a military victory improbable. Morale within the ranks is waning, as evidenced by the unprecedented surrender of entire military units, indicating a potential shift in the trajectory of the conflict.

While this does not suggest that a decisive battle is imminent, a prolonged conflict like Syria or Libya is unlikely. The revolution is multifaceted, encompassing political, military, and diplomatic fronts. Analysts predicting a swift end to offensives upon external interventions, particularly from China, fail to grasp the depth of the internal dynamics and the state of national sentiment in Myanmar. China’s role, while significant, does not overshadow the socio-political will of the Myanmar peoples, which ultimately will dictate the course of the revolution. The success of Operation 1027 has notably bolstered public morale, as reflected by the NUG’s recent fundraising efforts.

While the public celebrates the military achievements of the revolutionary groups, it is also essential to empathize with the segments of the civilian population, particularly in minority areas, who have suffered greatly due to recent military conflicts. Therefore, fostering inter-ethnic solidarity is critical in building a future political arrangement that will guarantee peace, freedom, prosperity, and a shared future. The military junta is confronting challenges of an unprecedented scale that could potentially lead to its downfall. Should this occur, it would signify the conclusion of the initial phase of a longer struggle – one aimed at creating democratic inclusive forms of governance for peoples within the boundaries of what is currently known as the nation of Myanmar.