Forgotten Wars: Escalation of Air Terror in Burma/Myanmar

Forgotten Wars: Escalation of Air Terror in Burma/Myanmar

Because of the Ukraine war, other wars and civil wars no longer make it into the Western media. Even the Ethiopian war, with 500,000 dead, millions displaced, imminent famine, only puts it in a short note that Federal Chancellor Scholz donated 50 million for a Ukrainian grain ship for Ethiopia and Somalia. In the Far East, the corona protests that are currently flaring up in China are still of interest, while the civil war in Myanmar has been completely forgotten. According to „The Irrawady“, the war is escalating, with the minority guerrillas apparently still leading the main part of the fight, several attacks and counterattacks are reported, but without game changers, the People’s Defense Forces hardly appear in the reports, as they aare pparently not yet powerful and well-armed and battle-hardened. The military junta has now also given Aung San Sui Kyi a longer prison sentence, as well as sentenced two leading cadres of the opposition to death and carries out numerous political assassinations. The opposition, meanwhile, seems to have acquired drones, with which it is launching its first strikes against the military and representatives of the military junta. Conversely, the military junta also uses drones, but the main focus now seems to be on intensifying airstrikes with the air force attacking opposition bases but also civilian hinterlands to induce terror and war fatigue. It remains unclear to what extent the USA and its CIA are supplying and training the opposition, in any case the USA does not seem to be supplying the opposition with anti-aircraft missiles like the Ukraine, which could neutralize and greatly weaken the air superiority of the Burmanese  air force. The clearest indication in this direction is an interview with a female „US-Burmese security expert“ and a Burmanese air force deserter, how the Burmanese opposition can get the air terror under control, which is intensified by Chinese and Russian fighter jet deliveries, without US anti-aircraft forces:

“Death from Above: How to Combat Myanmar Junta’s Escalating Air Campaign?

Burmese-American security expert Dr. Miemie Winn Byrd, left, and Myanmar Air Force defector Zay Thu Aung.

By Khin Nadi 3 November 2022

The Myanmar junta’s campaign of deadly airstrikes in resistance strongholds has sharply escalated in recent weeks, with daily attacks inflicting heavy casualties on resistance forces, ethnic allies and civilians. In exclusive interviews with The Irrawaddy, Dr. Miemie Winn Byrd, a Burmese-American professor at Hawaii’s Asia Pacific Center for Security Studies and former US Army lieutenant colonel, and Zay Thu Aung, a Myanmar Air Force defector, talk about their expectations of the junta’s air campaign in the coming months and how resistance force can combat the increasingly deadly aerial threat.

Dr. Miemie Winn Byrd, a Burmese-American security expert / APCSS

The Irrawaddy:Myanmar resistance forces and allied ethnic armed groups are facing deadly junta airstrikes that have intensified over the last month in Kachin, Sagaing, Kayah and Karen. The air attacks are expected to escalate in the dry season. What do you foresee in the coming months?

Dr. Miemie Winn Byrd: This is the expectation – that the regime will increase airstrikes because that’s all it has now. They can no longer win on the ground, so air power is the only thing they have left. However, airstrikes are expensive. Each sortie can cost US$200,000 to $350,000 depending on the type of munition used. Given the regime’s dire financial and economic condition, a question arises as to how long it can maintain such costly attacks.

How will the junta’s escalating aerial campaign affect the people’s revolution, which is short of finances and anti-aircraft weapons to defend people? Are there any other options for defense?

The revolution is continuing despite the military’s brutal attacks and arrest of People’s Defense Forces [PDFs] and civilians. A large proportion of Myanmar’s populace continues to resist and reject the military. Increased attacks by the military have only increased the people’s commitment and resolve to resist and reject military rule. The attacks appear to be fuelling the people’s anger and motivation to reject the military. The Myanmar people will innovate ways to overcome this new development [airstrikes], just as they did with earlier attacks.

There are many ways to disrupt an airstrike, in addition to shooting aircraft out of the sky. Aircraft need pilots, fuel, parts, wheels, runways, etc, to fly. If any of these elements are disrupted, they cannot fly. Fuel and parts have to be supplied and transported from somewhere – knowing when and where offers clues to areas of vulnerability in the supply chain. The resistance coalition does not need to wait for anti-aircraft missiles. With careful planning, the resistance can disrupt and prevent these aircraft from flying. I believe in the Myanmar people’s ingenuity and capability.

What can the civilian National Unity Government, PDFs and allied ethnic forces do to overcome the junta’s escalating airstrikes?

Closer cooperation, joint operations, joint command, and good intelligence.

A growing number of unarmed civilians and children have been killed in the junta’s indiscriminate aerial attacks. What can the international community do to prevent further such atrocities?

What is happening to unarmed civilians and children is heartbreaking. These war crimes are further proof that the regime military is no longer a professional military organization but has become a militant organized crime syndicate. People both here and abroad cannot tolerate this militant organized crime syndicate in Myanmar. The NUG and Myanmar’s overseas diaspora community have to speak loud and clear to the international audience. Messages of unity and close cooperation among the resistance coalition are critical in attracting increased assistance from the international community.

The Irrawaddy also asked Zay Thu Aung, a former captain in the Myanmar Air Force who defected following the coup.

Myanmar Air Force defector Zay Thu Aung.

What people can expect from the junta’s air campaign in the coming dry season?

Zay Thu Aung: Currently, the junta is launching air attacks continuously on resistance forces. And this will only get worse. It will carry out more aerial attacks in the dry season as the skies clear for air reconnaissance missions. It will target base camps of local resistance forces and ethnic allies with aerial bombardment after reconnaissance. Ethnic allies and PDFs not in the front line could be caught off-guard. I believe the regime will bomb at unexpected times, at night or early morning.

Why do you think there has been a spike in deadly airborne attacks recently?

The junta’s air force provides either close support or conducts joint operations with infantry troops. Attacks using the air force alone are called exclusive air missions. These missions usually aim to cut support channels to the enemy’s administrative mechanism. We could see this type of attack launched on base camps of PDFs and ethnic allies. If we look at the [Oct 23] attack on the KIO anniversary concert, many thought this kind of event wouldn’t be targeted because they traditionally attract large crowds from even distant villages. Typically they feature artists, revelers and bystanders. But the regime doesn’t care about all those people. If they think the enemy is gathering, they will bomb the event. In their heads, they don’t consider whether it is a war crime or not, they only think about making the enemy suffer and gaining an advantage.

How much do you think the junta’s new focus on air power will affect the revolution?

The main factor will be the military strategy of PDF commanders and how well they prepare. No matter how threatening, any weapon is limited in its range and [target] area. We can think of whether to keep people together or separated in camps, and how we can avoid [junta] reconnaissance. We can consider what to do on the ground including precautions and safety measures. I believe that if [resistance] ground commanders think about these things and make plans, it will be difficult for the regime’s attacks to be effective. However, the main strength of the military still lies in its army. Once the army collapses, the air force and navy can do nothing.

Are there any options for defense against junta airstrikes?

We need to have awareness of the air attacks, both on the front lines and behind. Villages must also be aware of the dangers. And the precautions must cover everything from counterattacks, safety measures, and movement of weapons and ammunition to individual duties during the air attacks. And do not assume that they will not attack you. The regime will not launch ground offensives to seize bases because it is short of troops and facing land-mine attacks and ambushes. That’s why it is now focusing more on the air force. In Sagaing region, we rarely see regime troop columns marching around as before. Nowadays, they are stationed in bases and airlifted to surveilled targets, where they launch attacks before being picked up again by helicopters. This is how they raided the Pale People’s administration hub [on Oct. 25]. They don’t leave their people in the area after the attack.

What do you know about the regime’s air reconnaissance?

It deploys UAV [unmanned aerial vehicle] drones and MPU aircraft to monitor targets using EOIR [Electro-Optical and Infrared] systems for night vision and surveillance. With these, it carefully surveys the areas to estimate the number of people, ambush patrols and location. Based on this data, senior officers draft plans and report to their chief of staff, who draw up a detailed scheme of attack. That’s how they launch the [air] attacks. So, we must not think they do not know this place and will not come and attack here. We should put aside that thinking. I urge all of our NUG, ethnic allies and PDFs to be on your guard.

Many people expect the resistance to use anti-aircraft weapons against regime airstrikes. What are your thoughts?

No matter what anti-aircraft weapons we use, it won’t stop them. The regime [leadership] doesn’t care about the lives of individual pilots or troops at all, only their own lives. Regime forces will also blindly follow whatever orders they get. So, I don’t think anti-aircraft weapons shooting down regime aircraft will do anything to reduce or stop the air attacks. And since it is not easy for us to get anti-aircraft weapons, we need to think strategically about [different] ways to maximize the junta’s suffering.

Will the junta expand its capacity for aerial attacks?

Yes. Russia recently gifted four more Ka-28 submarine-hunter helicopters it had pledged to deliver some time ago. The regime also has two newly arrived Su-30SME jets. And the junta has ordered FTC-2000G midrange fighter jets from China after sending a group of air force pilots to China for training. I urge the international community to help halt delivery of new aircraft, including the FTC-2000Gd and Su-30 jet-fighters, to Myanmar.

While it is clear that nothing can be expected from China, Russia and ASEAN, the Burmanese opposition and its supporters seem to be disappointed with India, which is pursuing more realpolitik as it thinks it can move the military junta away from China and is also pursuing its own economic interests:

“India’s Disturbing Ties with Myanmar Junta

By Angshuman Choudhury 24 November 2022

On November 22, India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) put out a short, three-point press release announcing the working visit of foreign secretary, Vinay Mohan Kwatra, to Myanmar.

Without saying too many things, it revealed one thing very unambiguously – as far as the relationship between the Indian government and the junta is concerned, it is business as usual.

The press release notes that the two sides discussed “maintenance of security and stability in the border areas” and “bilateral development cooperation projects”. Kwatra also “raised the issue of human trafficking by international crime syndicates in the Myawaddy area of Myanmar in which many Indian nationals have been caught and reviewed”.

Going by the Indian tweets, the foreign secretary met all regime leaders, including chief Min Aung Hlaing and foreign minister Wunna Maung Lwin. There were some photo ops where hands were shaken and polite smiles exchanged. The junta mouthpiece the Global New Light of Myanmar reported Kwatra’s meeting with Min Aung Hlaing on its front page.

What is notable is that the MEA and the Indian Embassy in Yangon publicized the meetings between the visiting foreign secretary and the junta leadership on Twitter, which wasn’t the case when former Indian foreign secretary, Harsh Vardhan Shringla, visited Min Aung Hlaing in December 2021.

This suggests New Delhi is now more confident in engaging with the junta than before and doesn’t mind trumpeting it in the open. In other words, it is willing to give the regime the international legitimacy that it so desperately craves. In return, it expects fidelity and cooperation.

New language, new approach?

This time the Indian side referred to the junta as “the senior leadership of Myanmar”. The MEA press release after Shingla’s visit last year used the term State Administration Council, which is what the junta calls itself. This year’s phrase takes New Delhi one step closer to recognizing the regime as the legitimate government of Myanmar. This isn’t surprising. Since the early 1990s, India has unwaveringly maintained a policy of recognizing whoever is in effective control of Naypyitaw as the legitimate government of all of Myanmar – which may not reflect the reality on the ground.

Notably, this year’s press release was significantly shorter than last year’s, showing India’s narrowing approach towards post-coup Myanmar.

As opposed to Shringla, Kwatra only broached a very small set of issues with the junta leadership, at least publicly. These cover India’s own strategic and economic interests; initiatives that help New Delhi maintain its footprint in its eastern neighborhood.

Most prominently they relate to the resumption of work on the Kaladan Multimodal Transit Transport Project and the India-Myanmar-Thailand trilateral highway – both of which are New Delhi’s flagship connectivity projects in Myanmar. India’s engagement with the Border Area Development Programme and Rakhine State Development Programme was also brought up.

All of these were mentioned, in almost the same language, in last year’s press release.

But Shringla also raised India’s interest in seeing a democratic Myanmar, the release of political prisoners, cessation of violence, support for the ASEAN peace process and provision of humanitarian aid to the people. He also expressed hope to see Myanmar “emerge as a stable, democratic federal union in accordance with the wishes of the people of Myanmar”.

None of this was mentioned in the recent press release. Omissions are revealing.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government now seems more reluctant to publicly pressure the junta.

By dodging issues that the junta might find unpalatable, India hopes to appease the regime in return for full cooperation in securing its interests. As New Delhi’s tunnel-vision goes, poking the regime could result in India losing access in Naypyitaw and, as a result, ceding ground to China.

But one wonders what good is this “access” when it comes at the cost of losing goodwill amongst the majority in Myanmar and, ironically, ending up looking exactly like China.

Losing public goodwill

By now it should be clear that the junta is unpopular, including with the  Bamar majority from which previous regimes drew legitimacy.

To parley with this regime is to alienate mainstream civil society, political leaders and the majority of the people.

No diplomatic strategy can sustain for long without public support in the partner country and India is already losing out.

Social media responses to the MEA tweets reveal the surging anger and frustration towards India.

“We, the people of Myanmar, will never forget what India did to us during our most difficult times. India is writing a hideous history,” says one reply.

“A disgrace, India working with barbaric terrorists. If India really wishes to offer its ‘support to democratic transition in Myanmar’ then it should work with @NUGMyanmar rather than the repulsive and failing Min Aung Hlaing terror organization,” wrote one account titled Please Help Save Myanmar.

Earlier this year, the foreign minister of the National Unity Government (NUG), Daw Zin Mar Aung, told me in an interview that she feels India is not supporting the pro-democracy movement as it was expected to.

What she said reflected a broader sentiment in Myanmar that India is no longer living up to its positive image as the world’s largest democracy and a model of democratic federalism.

The people feel betrayed by India’s pro-junta diplomacy.

Short-sighted policy

India’s decision to move closer to the junta is confounding not just because of its moral vacuity but also its political and strategic myopia.

The junta is a pathologically unreliable actor that only cares about its predatory interests. It will always choose to preserve its networks of loyalty and profit over India’s interests. Recent developments have only reaffirmed this.

Over the last few months, Indian media reports have revealed how hundreds of young Indian IT specialists have been trafficked into a Chinese-run scam in the village of Shwe Kokko on the Thai border in Myawaddy Township. This mega-racket is protected by the Border Guard Force, a Karen militia led by the warlord Saw Chit Thu and allied to Myanmar’s junta.

The border force is able to operate in that area because the junta is allowing it to do so, in exchange for loyalty in the ongoing war with the Karen National Union.

The Indian press release does mention this but the story in the junta media does not.

So we don’t know whether the junta agreed to ensure the release of Indians who are still trapped in Shwe Kokko or direct the border militia to guarantee that no Indians will be trafficked into Myawaddy in the future.

One hopes that is the case but the reality is unsettling. Several Indians who have managed to escape have told horror stories of forced labor, physical deprivation and torture in Shwe Kokko.

While the Indian government has managed to rescue several of them, one escapee recently told me that the response from the Indian Embassy in facilitating their extraction had been painfully slow.

Earlier this year, several media reports indicated that the junta was recruiting anti-India militants from Assam and Manipur as mercenaries in its war against the resistance in Sagaing Region. In exchange, these militants were being given safe haven inside Myanmar and bases for attacks against Indian forces along the border.

Shringla raised this last December but there is no evidence the junta has stopped giving refuge to Indian insurgents.

A disturbing dissonance

Later this year India will officially take on the presidency of the G20. The official theme for the Indian presidency is “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam”, Sanskrit for “one earth, one family, one future”. While revealing the official logo of the presidency earlier in November, Modi said: “The world is going through the after-effects of a disruptive once-in-a-century pandemic, conflicts and a lot of economic uncertainty… The symbol of the lotus in the G20 logo is a representation of hope at this time. No matter how adverse the circumstances, the lotus still blooms. Even if the world is in a deep crisis, we can still progress and make the world a better place.”

India’s policy on Myanmar belies these grand assertions of hope, humanity and inclusion. By backing a regime which maims, displaces and deprives its citizens, India can hardly expect to position itself as a global leader fit to “make the world a better place”.

One may argue that in realpolitik diplomacy, there is little place for human rights and moralistic idealism. But to talk about “people-centric development” on one hand and shake hands with a brutal military leader at war with the people on the other isn’t diplomatic dexterity, it is a comprehensive foreign policy own goal.

Angshuman Choudhury is an associate fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi.

What about Germany? That remains unclear, but now the German government has been criticized by the Burmese opposition and human rights groups. Apparently a rather marginal thing, if that’s real the case, but supposedly the German government is supposed to train two Burmanese military men in workshops and other activities at the Max Planck Society:

“German Govt is Funding Myanmar Junta Military Training: Rights Group

By Hein Htoo Zan 25 November 2022

Rights group Justice for Myanmar (JFM) says Germany is funding the training of Myanmar junta military personnel in a potential violation of European Union sanctions.

Germany’s Foreign Office is funding the training via a project run by the Max Planck Foundation to promote maritime peace and security in Southeast Asia.

Myanmar has faced violent political repression by the junta since the coup in February last year, as the majority of people reject military rule. Facing a widespread armed uprising, the junta has been unable to gain control over the country. It has so far killed more than 2,500 people.

The Max Planck Foundation has invited three representatives of the junta to join a workshop in Singapore from November 28 to December 2, the JFM statement said.

Topics to be covered in the workshop include military operations at sea, maritime terrorism, and ways to respond to unilateral sanctions.

Germany’s funding enables a sanctioned entity to reward loyalty, gain legitimacy and acquire skills and knowledge that supports the junta’s illegal attempted coup, JFM spokesperson Ma Yadanar Maung said.

“By providing support and legitimacy to the Myanmar military junta, the German government and the Max Planck Foundation are emboldening its atrocity crimes, undermining democracy and potentially breaching EU sanctions,” she remarked.

JFM pointed out that Germany’s funding appears to breach Article 4a(2) of EU Sanctions, which read, “No funds or economic resources shall be made available, directly or indirectly, to or for the benefit of natural or legal persons, entities or bodies listed in Annex IV.”

Earlier this month, the EU imposed a fifth package of sanctions on Myanmar’s junta, having previously sanctioned regime leader Min Aung Hlaing, defense minister Mya Tun Oo and other junta ministers.

At least two EU-sanctioned individuals are participating in the Max Planck Foundation project, which also legitimizes the junta as the government of Myanmar, JFM said.

The project is strategically important to the military regime given it only has stable control of 17 percent of Myanmar territory, and capacity-building may help increase that control as it intensifies a war of terror against its people. The foundation’s project provides specific skills to assist the junta’s illegal attempt to take control of Myanmar’s coastline and maritime borders, JFM said.

The Max Planck Foundation website states that all 10 ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) member states have nominated representatives for the Singapore workshop – the fifth in a series of six planned activities.

Two in-person workshops have been held since Myanmar’s military seized power last year, in the Philippines in July this year and in Vietnam in September. Junta representatives participated in the Vietnam workshop funded by the German government.

Interesting what the Max Planck Society has to offer in terms of activities and workshops. One had always thought that this was a purely scientific institution that only dealt with physics.

Interesting what the Max Planck Society has to offer in terms of activities and workshops. One had always thought that this was a purely scientific institution that only dealt with physics. The riddle is solved because it is about the Max Plack Foundation. Global Review then asked the Max Planck Society again and received the following very clear answer:

Global Review then asked the Max Planck Society again and received the following very clear answer:

„Dear Mr Ostner,

We are aware of this message, which unfortunately contains errors and misleading wording. The seminars mentioned have no military content or military training as their subject. None of the participants in the project carried out by the Max Planck Foundation are affected by EU sanctions. The project is an exchange of experts on the international law of the sea, in particular the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The aim is to enable an exchange between representatives of the ASEAN Secretariat and the ASEAN member states with international experts on questions of the rules-based international order, in particular on the interpretation and application of UNCLOS. The selection and invitation of the participants from the ASEAN member states is carried out by the ASEAN Secretariat as the institutional project partner of the Max Planck Foundation.

If you have further questions that do not relate to the workshops as such, I would refer you to the Federal Foreign Office, which is responsible for communication. The project is presented transparently on the website of the Max Planck Foundation so that you can form your own impression of the workshop topics:

(…) The Max Planck Foundation for International Peace and the Rule of Law is not (!) an institute of the Max Planck Society, but a non-profit limited company that provides legal advice and training in conflict areas and transition countries . It was founded in January 2013 as a wholly owned subsidiary of the Max Planck Society based in Heidelberg. It is therefore not funded by the Max Planck Society.“

Kind regards

Christina Beck

Dr. Christina Beck Head of Communications Department Max Planck Society general administration Hofgartenstr. 8 80539 Munich Phone: +49 89 2108 1275“

As recommended, we also turned to the only available contact page for Baerbock’s Foreign Office on the website, Bürgerservice, which only gave us a general reference to his inflated press statements, which we’re supposed to find out for ourselves somehow.

In summary, there does not appear to be any substantial truth to the allegations made by human rights groups and the Burmese opposition.

Professor van Ess also commented: „Yes, I’m not surprised. These accusations of violating sanctions are often very politically motivated and the content is questionable.”

However, it is striking that the MPG does not at all deny the participation of 2 Burmese military officers, referring to the ASEAN General Secretariat and referring to the German Foreign Office, the AA. But even if that is the case, one does not know what the German motivation is behind it, least of all probably not a legitimation of the Burmese military junta. It is just as possible that they want to convince the Burmese of the European or German Indo-Pacific strategy and that they stand up for an international maritime law order in the South China Sea as international waters and also in the waters off Burma against China’s claims, conduct information gathering and collection or simply want to establish contacts, which could possibly have an advantageous effect for the opposition.

A girl friend of my mother was married to a US military officer who fought in World War II, Korea and Vietnam, then was deployed to Ethiopia as a development aid and military adviser. In his training course was a young aspiring officer named Mengistu Haile Meriam, who was already seen on the US side as an asset and possible successor to Emperor Haile Selaisse, who was being criticized by a famine at the time. But not only the USA had contact with him, but also the Soviets and so he changed sides and became a dictator loyal to Moscow. In the event of a crisis, this is possible in both directions, but only if you have contacts and know how to use them. It is therefore not surprising that the CIA is now openly proclaiming to recruit Russian oligarchs, siloviki and cadres of Putin. The stupidest thing you can do is complete puritanical asceticism in terms of contacts with the other side. So we’ll leave it at our questions, since we don’t believe the German government is capable of consciously supporting the Burmese military junta — except as a frontline position against China’s naval claims, especially within ASEAN and maybe as supproter against an even more totalitarian and aggressive wanna- be world power.

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