British And American Nationals Fighting Alongside Anti-coup Myanmar’s Rebels

An ex-British soldier and an American fighter are among a small but growing number of foreigners training and fighting alongside anti-coup forces in the war against Myanmar’s military regime.

The volunteers say they were inspired by Myanmar’s resistance, which has stood up to one of the most brutal and well-equipped militaries in Southeast Asia since the generals seized power and killed peaceful protesters more than three years ago.

An infantryman in the British army for four years from 2009, with a seven-month tour of Afghanistan, Jason said he returned from eastern Myanmar in late April after eight weeks on the front lines.

Jason – a pseudonym used due to security concerns – said the resistance fighters were “ready to die for the cause” in their all-or-nothing battle against the military.

“It’s different from other places I’ve fought, where you see more fear in the eyes,” he said. “They’re brave people.”

Ethnic armed groups, mainly in the country’s border areas, have been fighting the military for decades, sometimes with the assistance of foreign volunteers.

But since the coup on February 1, 2021, atrocities have spread from the peripheries to the central regions. The military, with a largely Russian-made fleet of fighter jets, has been accused of indiscriminate air strikes against civilians and had burned villages to the ground in what the United Nations and human rights groups have described as possible war crimes.
But the generals have been unable to quell the uprising. The resistance has inflicted huge losses and made large territorial gains, initially using slingshots and air rifles against a military wielding a billion-dollar arsenal supplied by Russia and China.

Ethnic armies, public donations and weapon seizures partly as a result of last year’s Operation 1027 offensive have opened the door to better equipment for the resistance, which, even without foreign military assistance, has challenged the military’s staying power.

Myanmar has not experienced the same wave of international volunteers seen in conflicts such as Ukraine or Syria, and there are no coordinated efforts to enlist foreign recruits. Myanmar also has a dizzying number of armed groups scattered across the country.

But foreign fighters, acting in an independent capacity, have travelled to the east and west of Myanmar in clandestine efforts that potentially put them at risk of prosecution in their home countries, and have remained secret until now.

Al Jazeera has seen footage and photos of Jason fighting alongside the resistance in eastern Myanmar. Two sources also witnessed him on the ground.

The British veteran also fought for Ukraine soon after the start of the Russian invasion, spending about a year and a half in the country, he said.

“I’m not a mercenary,” said Jason. “I do it purely for who I think is the right side.”

On seeing untrained and inexperienced foreigners in Ukraine, he does not want the same for Myanmar.

There’s always the worry that Myanmar could become the next Ukraine with idiots going there,” he said, adding that he joined an unnamed resistance force, which vetted him.

He now has plans to organise a team of six to 10 former servicemen from the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada and Australia and return to help the rebels.

“We have knowledge from four different armies that we can use to teach them,” he said. “My experience there solidified even more my urge to help them. They just want their freedom and democracy.”

He was reluctant to baptise the brewing international unit with a name, which he expects to arrive in Myanmar at an unspecified date later this year.

“We don’t want to be the white saviours, with our own team,” he said. “We would rather work in their system than be our own entity.”

“We’re doing it all for free,” he added. “People have to take time off work.”

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