Myanmar’s Junta Is Losing the Civil War

Myanmar’s Junta Is Losing the Civil War
A Karenni Nationalities Defense Force soldier hides behind a tree during an armed skirmish with the Myanmarese army (Sipa photo by Kaung Zaw Hein via AP Images).

Almost two and a half years since the February 2021 coup that toppled the democratically elected civilian government of the National League for Democracy, Myanmar’s military junta is losing control of much of the country. The junta has already lost large swathes of territory to ethnic militias that have fought longstanding insurgencies in the borderlands as well as to new groups of fighters organized under the People’s Defense Force that sprung up after the coup.* It now faces threats even in the biggest cities, where it had until recently maintained a degree of brutal control.

In recent months, the junta has declared that it will hold national elections, albeit with the National League for Democracy banned from participating, in an effort to legitimize its rule sometime in the future. In reality, the possibility of an actual vote is nearly nil, as even if the army did want to hold such a sham election, it would not be able to safely run polling stations in much of the country.

In recent months, reports have emerged detailing the many weaknesses of Myanmar’s military, known as the Tatmadaw. It has increasingly resorted to brutal air attacks, often on civilians, in places where it likely would lose battles on the ground. But these tactics do not help the military win back any territory and simply turn more of the population against it. When it does conduct ground operations, its forces have been repeatedly ambushed by fighters of the People’s Defense Force, or PDF.* And it cannot fill new classes at its military academy, probably because young men no longer want to join an armed force facing such severe threats on the battlefield. Meanwhile, a wide range of military leaders and military-affiliated officials have been assassinated in cities. As a result of all these factors, morale in the army is reportedly extremely low and desertions very common.

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