Myanmar’s ‘Three Brorherhood’ Rebels Seized The Largest Weapons Cache From Fleeing Junta Forces

A military operation launched in late October has turned the tide in the ongoing civil war between the Myanmar military junta and allied opposition forces throughout the country. Photos and videos shared online during December show significant weapons caches seized by resistance fighters who have taken over military outposts around the country. The seizure comes amid new anti-junta alliances and major territorial gains, according to an expert on the conflict.

Members of the Ta’ang National Liberation Army pose with weapons and ammunition captured from Myanmar military outposts in Namhsan, Shan State between December 10 and 15, 2023.
Members of the Ta’ang National Liberation Army pose with weapons and ammunition captured from Myanmar military outposts in Namhsan, Shan State between December 10 and 15, 2023.

Operation 1027 began on October 27, 2023 and has since led to significant strategic gains for Myanmar’s anti-junta opposition.

The operation is conducted by the Three Brotherhood Alliance, made up of the Arakan Army, the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army. These ethnic armed organisations (EAOs) make up just a small part of the anti-junta resistance in Myanmar, which has been in the throes of a civil war since a military coup overthrew its democratically elected government in February 2021.

Operation 1027 has brought new energy to the anti-coup movement as resistance fighters take over key military outposts and capture territory around the country. Images shared online show fighters posing victoriously with weapons, ammunition and heavy artillery.

Images shared on X show members of the Ta’ang National Liberation Army with weapons and ammunition captured from Myanmar military outposts in Namhsan, Shan State between December 10 and 15, 2023.

The official account of Myanmar’s opposition government in exile shared these images of the Ta’ang National Army with heavy artillery captured from military bases in Namhsan.
‘They were able to take them by surprise and take over a lot of territory’
The FRANCE 24 Observers team spoke to Erin Murphy, a senior fellow with the Asia program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a Myanmar expert.

What’s been happening in Myanmar in the last couple of months is that you’ve seen unprecedented cooperation among the ethnic armed groups. They combine forces to counter the Myanmar junta. They were able to take them by surprise and take over a lot of territory, junta outposts, take their equipment and their military materiel and really kind of breathe life into the anti-junta forces that have been in place since the coup.

And so you see these photos of large caches of weapons, whether it’s semi-automatic weapons, rifles, pistols. They’ve taken over a lot of Myanmar military weaponry by taking over these outposts.

Outposts, border towns and police stations

The three groups making up the Brotherhood Alliance operate primarily in Shan State, which borders China, and Rakhine State, on the western coast. The groups have carried out coordinated attacks, mostly in northern Myanmar.

The Arakan Army represents the Arakan ethnic group in Rakhine State, engaging in conflict with the Myanmar Armed Forces since 2009 for Arakan sovereignty. The Ta’ang National Liberation Army has been active in Shan State since the 1990s, primarily focusing on combating drug production and trade. The Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, rooted in Communist ideology, has opposed the Burmese government since 1989 and shifted focus to anti-junta resistance in 2021.

The Arakan Army declared that they have been able to capture 142 military bases – including camps, outposts, border posts and police stations – in Rakhine State since the operation began. The FRANCE 24 Observers team was unable to independently verify this information.

In total, the Brotherhood Alliance says it has seized more than 422 bases and seven towns since October 27. The coalition has operated mainly in Shan state, capturing more than 100 military installations on the Chinese border and effectively cutting off 40% of cross-border trade through important border crossings.

A video shared on X shows a stockpile of weapons captured from a military outpost near Muse, a northern border town with China in Shan State.
Murphy adds:

The Myanmar military is located throughout the country. So instead of being an outward-facing force, it’s really internal. It has border guard forces. It has a light infantry division. It has brigades located all throughout the country. Some of them are small, some of them are quite large, and they’re located in every state and region in the country.

Images shared on X show the Ta’ang National Liberation Army at a military base in Namhkam, Shan State, captured on December 18.
So some of these outposts that these EAOs have taken over are relatively small, but some of them are about medium-sized. What they’re able to seize is pretty unprecedented and pretty impressive as well. But we also have to remember that the Myanmar military still is able to get much better equipment from the Chinese, from maybe the North Koreans, the Russians, and the Belarusians. But if these EAOs are seizing that equipment, then they might be able to have the same level of firepower.

Increasing weapons supply and quality
In addition to cutting off trade through border crossings, outpost attacks help the opposition movement seize military-grade weaponry and ammunition from junta caches.

Photos shared on X detail some of the artillery seized by the Ta’ang National Liberation Army in Shan State.
Armed organisations and militias have been known to import weapons from trafficking networks or manufacture their own, sometimes even 3D printing them. However, these weapons fall behind in terms of quality.

Capturing military bases has allowed resistance fighters to add artillery cannons, Chinese-made anti-materiel rifles, and machine guns to their arsenals.

‘It’s also meant to show the junta that they’re weak, that they are taking over territory, that they’re taking their weapons’
Operation 1027 has also encouraged other ethnic armed groups and militias – as well as the People’s Defense Forces (PDFs), the main military wing of Myanmar’s opposition government in exile – to ramp up their assaults on the military junta around the country. While weapons seizures are a significant tactical gain for the opposition, they also serve to boost the resistance movement’s morale and regain international attention.

Rebels explanation

These photos are certainly used for public relations, for morale, and I think to show the world what they are capable of doing. It certainly helps with morale and this has been going on since the coup in February 2021. And that the EAOs, the PDFs and the anti-junta forces – and that includes the civilians who are fighting through protests and not in hand-to-hand combat – they are wondering if the world forgot them.

Two groups allied with the Brotherhood Alliance captured a police station in Nyaung Pin Thar, in southern Myanmar, on December 13. Photos shared on X show the weapons they captured.
And Ukraine, Gaza have certainly taken the the air out of the focus on Myanmar. So these types of photos kind of help boost morale. And I think it’s also meant to show the junta that they’re weak, that they are taking over territory, that they’re taking their weapons. I think it’s meant to spook them as well.

The Irrawaddy, an opposition media outlet in Myanmar, reports that more than 650 junta soldiers have surrendered or defected since Operation 1027 began.

China has helped facilitate talks and a temporary ceasefire between the ruling military and anti-junta groups. Despite a ceasefire announced on December 14, resistance fighters continued to seize key territory.

There are certainly opportunities here, and it is become very interesting in Myanmar. But I think the one thing that we all should remember is that there are millions of people getting caught in the crossfire of this and that they are without food, without shelter. They’re getting bombed by the junta trying to root out these EAOs and are getting caught in the crossfire. So we can’t forget the humanitarian issues that are happening here. And that’s unfortunately not unprecedented in Myanmar. But it is growing worse and worse by the day with this ongoing fighting and lack of peace.

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