Myanmar Junta Weakening as Fighting Intensifies, New Battlefronts Emerge: Mandalay Resistance
By The Irrawaddy 2 May 2023
Armed conflict has intensified in Myanmar over the past two years since the coup as a nationwide uprising forces Myanmar’s military regime to fight on multiple new fronts.
In April, the Mandalay People’s Defense Force (MDY-PDF) attacked junta troops in Nawnghkio on the border of Shan State. The regime suffered heavy casualties in the clashes and had to call in air support. Among the junta troops killed was a battalion commander of the rank of lieutenant colonel.
MDY-PDF spokesman Ko Osmond recently talked to The Irrawaddy about the fighting in Nawnghkio, which is among many new battlefronts facing the regime.
What is the latest update on the fighting in Nawnghkio?
Clashes broke out on April 5 after we attacked their hilltop outpost in Thanbo village, and they continued until April 24. The fighting was quite fierce.
Junta forces began launching air raids on April 8. They bombed four to seven times a day, dropping three to four bombs in each bombing raid. They also fired 60mm, 80mm, 120mm and 155mm artillery shells. The fighting was more like conventional warfare as it took place over a large area. We attacked their hilltop base and they attacked our outpost. We defended by digging foxholes and trenches.
We also attacked Infantry Battalions (IB) 114 and 155 in Nawnghkio with 107mm homemade rockets. We retrieved the dead body of the IB 147 commander, who was a lieutenant colonel. We lost 11 comrades in the fighting, with others also injured. There have been no fresh clashes since April 23, but the fighting is far from over.
The latest fighting was the fiercest since MDY-PDF attacked junta troops in 2022. What motivated your attack?
We called the latest assault Operation Thabyay Nyo. We plan to escalate our attacks this year, in line with the National Unity Government (NUG)’s 2023 plan. We carried out our first attack of 2023 on February 10. That fighting was fierce too, and the regime had to deploy air attacks. We seized a cache of weapons in that attack, and the regime suffered heavy casualties. It was the first part of Operation Thabyay Nyo.
The second attack took place on April 5.
What’s your relationship with the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and other ethnic armed organizations based in your area? Has the TNLA joined your group in the fighting?
There are other revolutionary groups in the area where we are operating – not just ethnic revolutionary organizations but also other PDF groups. We have friendly ties with many groups including Mogoke PDF and Nawnghkio PDF, and we also cooperate with them and help each other. We also have close ties with the TNLA, but I have no comment about the details of our relationship with the TNLA.
How many civilians have been displaced by the fighting?
Residents of many villages in the warzone had to flee fighting, mainly because artillery shells fired by regime forces hit their villages and houses were damaged. In Thanpoe village, two children were killed and three civilians injured by regime shelling. Artillery shells have also hit Hoke village. So villagers dare not stay in their villages.
How was the MDY-PDF formed? Is it under the command of the NUG’s Ministry of Defence?
We were established in June 2021. In the early days, we focused on building our capacity and barely carried out any attacks. We started fighting in 2022. The current clashes have been the longest and fiercest that we have fought so far.
We are under the direct command of the NUG’s Defence Ministry. We are in a military hierarchy. Though we are called Mandalay PDF, not all of our members are Mandalay natives. Many of them are from Sagaing and Magwe regions while others are from Yangon, Ayeyarwady and other parts of the country. They are from different walks of life and are also diverse in terms of their religion and age.
The core value of MDY-PDF is order and obedience. We took time to make sure that our organization is founded on a framework and strict policies, and not via a personality cult. We consulted with experts and reviewed the matter extensively. So, we took time to build up our organization systematically. We can say we have instilled strong discipline.
What are your thoughts on the regime being forced to fight on new fronts?
We can now effectively handle the junta’s ground troops. And the regime has been forced to use excessive air and artillery support to conceal this fact. The fighting will only intensify in the months to come. The regime will very likely have to fight on various fronts across the country, including in areas where there is still no fighting. We, MDY-PDF, plan to carry out more clashes in 2023. The regime has been increasingly weakened. Data [from dead bodies and weapons] we seized during clashes show the regime has been forced to redeploy soldiers from four to six battalions to get 300 to 400 troops to send to the front.