It took two years to plan but just days to shatter the Tatmadaw’s all-powerful image. Still, Operation 1027 is far from finished with the regime that seized power from a civilian government in 2021.
It comprises about 20,000 resistance troops, with the three ethnic armies that form the Brotherhood Alliance at its core. The Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) sent in four brigades, the Arakan Army (AA) 10 and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) seven.
The Bamar People’s Liberation Army 203, which is affiliated with MNDAA Brigade 611, sent troops, the People’s Liberation Army sent two brigades, and two People’s Defense Force (PDF) battalions from central Myanmar joined the offensive. One battalion from the Karenni Nationalities Defense Force, seven Mandalay-based PDF battalions and two Mogoke PDF battalions affiliated with TNLA are also participating.
Artillery and drone units have also joined the initial phase of the operation.
Severing transport routes
The ethnic alliance launched coordinated attacks on Chin Shwe Haw, Namkham, Lashio, Hseni, and Nawnghkio towns, making it difficult for the regime to gauge the objective of the operation. Transport routes in northern Shan State were severed.
The route between Mandalay, Pyin Oo Lwin and Lashio was cut off, as was the route between Lashio and Tangyang, Mongyai. This made the route between Eastern Central Command and Lashio inaccessible.
The Brotherhood Alliance then seized junta outposts between Lashio and Namtu, severing the route between the two towns. It then seized Hseni Town, making the Lashio-Hseni-Kunlong Road and Hseni-Kutkai-Muse roads inaccessible to regime troops.
The alliance then cut off the route between Kunlong and Laukkai by occupying Chin Shwe Haw Town. It then seized a bridge across the Salween River, separating Kokang’s Konkyan to the east of the Salween River from Tar Moe Nye and Monesi on the river’s western side.
The alliance then attacked Phaungsai Town, separating it from Maw Htike Town to the east of the Salween River.
The alliance also severed routes between Namkham and Nanphatka towns as well as between Muse and Namkham. It also cut off the route between Kyuaukme and Hsipaw, making it impossible for the regime to send reinforcements and weapons from southern Shan State.
This has forced the regime to airlift reinforcements and weapons to towns and its bases in northern Shan State.
The blockade of northern Shan State, considered vital for the success of the offensive, is still effective 20 days after the operation was launched.
Lashio is the administrative capital of northern Shan State and is also the base of the Northeastern Command. In the early days of the offensive, the ethnic alliance seized junta positions east of Lashio town.
Facing a direct threat to Lashio and the Northeastern Command, the regime was forced to airlift reinforcements to the town. It was already short of personnel and had to weaken its positions at other front lines to shore up its forces in northern Shan State.
The ethnic alliance attacked Phaungsai, Monesi, Nanzhuan to the west of the Salween River, and Chin Shwe Haw to the south of Kokang, before attacking Kunlong.
It seized Pansai, Monekoe, Phaungsai, Nanzhuan and Kunlong towns in 12 days.
The alliance also took control of Hseni and Namkham towns and seized strategic junta hill-top outposts in Muse. It also besieged Laukkai Town, the capital of Kokang Self-Administered Zone, from numerous directions.
The Fall of Kunlong
The battle for Kunlong showed that the alliance was more ambitious than thought. It seized junta positions to the east of the Salween River and Kunlong Town between November 1 and 6.
From November 7 to 12, the alliance launched fierce assaults west of the river, seizing junta positions.
The regime had one light infantry battalion, one infantry battalion, and one artillery battalion as well as a tactical command base in Kunlong. It had, however, fewer than 100 personnel in each battalion and was forced to airlift reinforcements in. The regime also carried out about 200 airstrikes while defending Kunlong.
The alliance seized Kunlong after 12 days, taking large caches of weapons, including tanks, armored vehicles, howitzers and multiple rocket-launch systems.
The fall of Kunlong left Hopang and Pan Lon towns in Hopang District helpless. All of Kokang, which was defended by the Laukkai-based regional operations command, came under siege.
The fall of Kunlong also represents a serious military threat to Lashio, where the Northeastern Command is based, and all northern Shan State.
The regime will need thousands of troops to take back Kunlong. If it sends a few hundred, they will easily be outgunned. However, it lacks the resources to airlift thousands of troops. It can only transport them by road.
It faces two problems. First, it will find it very difficult to gather thousands of troops. Second, it may take months to overcome the blockade between Nawnghkio and Kunlong towns. The regime would have to risk heavy casualties to regain Kunlong and other towns seized by the alliance. This makes it very unlikely that it can regain control of the towns it lost in the early days of Operation 1027.
The ethnic alliance seized around 150 junta positions in the 18 days to November 13. If there were around 10 personnel in each outpost, the regime might have suffered 1,500 casualties. The alliance has taken full control of Chin Shwe Haw, Pansai, Monekoe, Phaungsai, and Kunlong and partial control of Namkham and Hseni towns.
The offensive has eliminated the junta’s administrative ability in most towns in northern Shan State. The victory in Kunlong was both a political and military turning point.
Kunlong: The Turning Point
The day after the alliance seized Kunlong, the AA launched an offensive in Rakhine State with 25,000 to 30,000 of its troops joining the fighting.
This must have been part of the plans of the Brotherhood Alliance. The fighting in western Myanmar will not only affect Rakhine, but also Ayeyarwady Region to the east of Rakhine’s Yoma mountains as well as the frontlines in Bago and Magwe regions.
Since the alliance launched the operation, fighting has intensified in Kachin, Karen, Karenni and Chin states as well as in Magwe, Sagaing, Mandalay, Bago, Yangon and Tanintharyi regions. The seizures of towns and junta casualties have boosted the morale of resistance forces.
The fall of Kunlong showed that the regime’s feared military can be defeated.
Increased attacks have further depleted the regime’s rank and file, which was already at a critically low level of soldiers is of Myanmar’s military. It lacks the personnel to retake the positions it has lost. It cannot immediately send in reinforcements when a position comes under attack. The more clashes there are, the less effective air support will become.
Kunlong’s fall shocked Naypyitaw. In the early days of Operation 1027, it was assumed that the offensive was merely intended for the MNDAA to regain control of Kokang. But as the offensive expanded beyond Shan State, that assumption proved wrong.
The fall of Kunlong showed that Myanmar’s military is vulnerable.
It also showed that the military-centered approach in Myanmar—the belief that the Tatmadaw is the key to solving domestic political problems—is a notion fa removed from reality, even though this notion was for decades endorsed by some “peace experts” at home and abroad.
The victory in Kunlong was not only a military turning point, it points the way to a new political template in Myanmar.
(Moe Sett Nyein Chan is a military analyst.)