Gen. Tun Aung: The Top Gun Directing Myanmar Junta’s Brutal Aerial War

By The Irrawaddy 1 November 2022

Myanmar’s junta has stepped up its campaign of airstrikes on both military and non-military targets in an effort to crush resistance across the country.

The resulting massacres of civilians have shocked people both here and abroad and sparked international condemnation. Targets of regime airstrikes in recent weeks include a school in Let Yet Kone Village of Depayin Township in Sagaing, and a concert held by the Kachin Independence Organization in Hpakant, Kachin State.

Buildings destroyed during the airstrike on a concert in ANang Pa Village, Kachin State on October 23.

In the past, only people in strife-torn ethnic border areas had to dive for cover at the sight of military aircraft. Now, even those in the heartlands of Anyar Region are being forced to do the same.

Regime forces have conducted around 240 airstrikes targeting civilians since last year’s coup, killing more than 240 people, according to the parallel civilian National Unity Government.

The man responsible for this deadly air campaign sits in a heavily guarded war office in Naypyitaw.

As chief of the Air Force, General Tun Aung must be held accountable for indiscriminate aerial bombing of Anyar and ethnic areas.

Last Friday saw the graduation ceremony of the 84th intake of trainee air force pilots at Meiktila air base. Gathered there were the military officers responsible for the Kachin concert airstrike that killed at least 75 people on Oct. 23. But they didn’t look guilty.

Regime Air Force chief General Tun Aung at the graduation ceremony of the 84th intake of trainee air force pilots at Meiktila air base on October 28, 2022. / Cincds

Addressing the event, General Tun Aung ordered the pilot graduates to do their duty unto death.

Tun Aung himself graduated from the Defense Services Academy 29th intake and was a classmate of the regime’s recently deposed chief of police, Lieutenant-General Than Hlaing.

Apparently, his talent for aerial warfare determined his fate, eventually placing him at the bloody helm of the junta’s campaign.

When Myanmar’s military decided to bolster its air force with Russia-made MIG 29 fighters in the 2000s, it dispatched pilots to undergo training in Russia – now the regime’s largest arms supplier. Tun Aung was one of those sent to Russia.

He gained a reputation as a top gun in the air force and was the first among his intake to win promotion.

Still, he had a long way to climb before reaching the top of the ladder.

Meanwhile, the air force was bombing ethnic armies on the border and its munitions were sometimes straying into neighboring countries.

In one well-known case, air force chief of staff Major-General Lwin Oo was forced to step down after bombs landed in China during airstrikes on the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army in Shan State’s Kokang in 2015.  Maj-Gen Lwin Oo is currently the Myanmar regime’s ambassador to Russia.

He was succeeded as chief of staff by Maung Maung Kyaw, with Tun Aung still out of the picture.

But when General Khin Aung Myint retired as air force chief, Maung Maung Kyaw replaced him and Tun Aung became chief of staff.

The chief of staff is known as the “crown prince”, being second in command to the air force chief.

Gen Maung Maung Kyaw is the son of the late Gen Thura Kyaw Htin, who served as armed forces chief under the Myanmar Socialist Programme Party government of General Ne Win.

The general and his family amassed wealth by importing and supplying aircraft parts for the air force. The debonair air force chief was described by his juniors as a playboy.

“His subordinates called him James Bond behind his back. But he preferred ‘Tom Cruise,’” said one air force officer, referring to the Hollywood movie “Top Gun” starring Cruise as a pilot.

Following the junta’s military crackdown and atrocities against civilians, armed resistance has spread beyond the autonomy-seeking ethnic states of Kachin, Karen and Kayah (Karenni) to central Myanmar, which has not witnessed large-scale fighting since independence.

After resistance mine attacks and ambushes inflicted heavy casualties on junta personnel, the regime has increasingly relied on its air force. Gen Maung Maung Kyaw ordered heavy airstrikes for nearly a year following the coup. He was “allowed to retire” in January for reasons not revealed by the regime but thought to be linked with his sex scandal involving a female pilot.

The purge of his two seniors, Lwin Oo and Maung Maung Kyaw, made way for Gen Tun Aung to take the blood-soaked seat.

“General Tun Aung is a different type from the previous air force chief [Maung Maung Kyaw]. He is obedient and does not complain,” said an officer from the Naypyitaw war office.

Tun Aung was a director of the military-owned Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd when he was appointed as air force chief. Two months after his appointment, he faced sanctions from Canada, the UK, and the US.

Under the rules of the sanctions, which were announced on Armed Forces Day in March, he must now be held accountable for the indiscriminate airstrikes across the country.

Under Tun Aung’s command, the air force has escalated its brutal campaign against Myanmar’s people. Warplanes that are now directed by a talented pilot are inflicting heavier civilian casualties and damage, even crossing the border into Bangladesh and Thailand on bombing missions.

In January and February, the air force carried out four airstrikes on camps for internally displaced people in Demoso Township, Kayah State. Other attacks included an airstrike on Yin Paung Taing in Sagaing Region’s Yinmarbin Township that killed at least 18; on a school in Let Yet Kone Village in Sagaing’s Depayin Township that left 13 civilians including seven children dead; the nighttime attack on the Kachin concert that killed at least 75 and injured many others; and a strike on the office of the people’s authority in Sagaing’s Pale Township that killed at least 16. And these are just some of the notorious airstrikes ordered under Gen Tun Aung’s command.

Daily regime airstrikes and airborne raids in October killed more than 100 people, injured at least 130 and destroyed or damaged numerous homes.

Air force personnel are generally thought to be more educated and civilized than ground troops as they have to handle sophisticated technology. But the murderous attacks on a school, IDP camps and concert contradict this idea.

A retired military officer lamented that academic credentials had nothing to do with the slaughter.

“In short, it is because they are brainwashed,” he said.