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KNU adopts new doctrine on front line

Bangkok (Mizzima) - When two explosions rocked the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army compound in the middle of the night, destroying a bulldozer and excavator, the Karen National Liberation Army’s Special Warfare Branch headed for the hills.

It was a rude post-midnight awakening for the DKBA soldiers of Brigade 999, but they quickly assembled a pursuit team.

And they struck out from Ta-ah Tah village, straight up into unforgiving terrain of the Dawna Mountain Range.

They had been hit by a KNLA strike deep behind the lines, a tactic favoured by Karen National Union Vice President David Thackrabaw, and they knew there would be hell to pay for destruction of such expensive machinery.

It is not the first such strike and will not be the last.

The Special Warfare Branch, headed by Brigadier-General Saw Hsar Gay, says this is the result of a new warfare doctrine, using small teams and hitting strategic targets.

The targets are of such value that the teams know hot pursuit will follow and prepare in advance to create a matrix of booby traps that will inflict maximum injury and death on their pursuers.

Some of the key weapons of these matrices are Claymore-style, directional anti-personnel mines, bounding and stake mines.

Brig-Gen Hsar Gay said these weapons were all detonated at the time of engagement, and so proved no danger to the civilian population later on and technically weren’t considered landmines.

“They are triggered either by remote control, electric trigger or a tripwire and, provided strict technical specifications are followed, and can be manufactured anywhere.

“They represent the premium defensive weapons as small demolition squads withdraw under fire, or a lethal ambush weapon, where a handful of men can hit entire enemy columns without expending ammunition.

“There’s also the benefit of the low risk of casualties,” he said. These tactics will be spread throughout KNLA battalions.

“It is important to standardise construction of all our booby traps,” said Brig-Gen Hsar Gay.

“Wherever they are assembled they must be identical, so that performance is streamlined and training and user manuals don’t differ.

“That means our special warfare soldiers can move between battalions and brigades and train others.

“Stealth communications and night warfare are also part of our new doctrine, but implementing these across the force means forming a centralised, homogenous programme using the same hardware, so battalions can carry out very similar coordinated operations, even if they are hundreds of miles from each other.

We’ve changed tactics, out of necessity we must make our weaknesses our strengths,” said Brig-Gen Hsar Gay.

“It’s quite contrary to previous doctrines, where we [the KNLA] wasted a lot of ammunition engaging the enemy in firefights.

“We created the section in 2001 and have since used it to pioneer new tactics that will be employed increasingly in the field by all of our troops,” he said.

“These are unorthodox tactics – behind-the-lines missions and Claymore ambush warfare – that are ideally suited to our outgunned army.”

“The Americans used these tactics as part of their ambush doctrine during the Vietnam War, but only as an ambush initiator, followed by a lot of small arms and machinegun fire, or even heavier weapons.

“But in Karen State we’re doing the opposite - the Claymores, stake and bounding mines are the main weapons and small arms fire is used only for self-defence or if the opportunity to seize enemy weapons and equipment presents itself and covering fire is needed,” he said.

“Our Second and Third brigades are using special warfare tactics with great success, particularly multiple Claymore and booby trap withdrawals, that’s why the SPDC casualty figures are so high in those brigades.

“But now Sixth Brigade and Seventh Brigade are becoming more capable.

“We’ve trained NCOs [non-commissioned officers] and specially-selected soldiers from most brigades, but the better the tactics are understood by battalion and brigade commanders, the easier and effective implementation is.”

While the logistical benefits are fairly obvious – the potential loss of life is minimised using small teams, valuable ammunition is preserved and premium weapons carried – there are also direct political benefits.

Earlier this year, frustrated by border warfare marked by shelling and heavy machine-gun fire, Thai authorities ordered leaders of the Karen National Union and its armed wing, the KNLA, off Thai soil.

Things had got out of control and pressuring the side perceived to be weaker – the KNU - was identified as the quickest solution to calm the border region and facilitate trade.

The DKBA, allied with the Burmese Army and pitched against the KNLA, was running up and down the border, launching attacks against the KNLA from Thai soil and terrorising Thai villages thought sympathetic to the KNU.

The KNLA tactics of small teams trekking through the jungle for days with one target in mind and avoiding fighting on the borderline will ease relations with the Thais as the matter will be considered an “internal affair” for the Burmese to deal with, said Brig-Gen Hsar Gay.

“The border fighting creates the false impression that the KNLA is supported from the other side [the Thai side] of the border.

“It’s important not to affect Thailand’s security interests,” he said.

“And it also shows the KNLA’s ability to fight the Burmese Army deep inside areas they claim to control.”

The DKBA broke with the KNLA in the mid-nineties, claiming religious persecution of Buddhists by the largely Christian leadership of the KNU.

From its days as a rag-tag bunch of deserters it has developed into a formidable military force.

The DKBA is also one of the few ethnic minority armies to agree with Burma’s military junta, the State Peace and Development Council, and its proposal to form Border Guard Forces from disparate armies controlling areas of Burma.

However, the DKBA is not seen to have the loyalties of the greater Karen population.

Its submission to the will of the SPDC does not augur well with people hard done by for decades at the hands of the Burmese Army.

There is little doubt that a small band of KNLA specialists on the run from a larger unit of DKBA pursuers would be given sound advice on local conditions or a sock of rice by villagers in a bid to render their mission successful.

Such sentiments are not lost on DKBA foot soldiers.

And now, with their transformation into a border guard force, the DKBA are being issued with badges to be sewn into their uniforms bearing the motifs of the Burmese Army.

This is creating dissension in the ranks according to one venerated retired KNLA soldier.

“The [DKBA] brigades are now operating independently of one another, doing what they wish, employing tactics of their own making, following allegiances held by their commanders,” he said.

At a clandestine meeting in Thailand, a commander of another breakaway military clique, the KNU/KNLA Peace Council, said both the SPDC and DKBA had plans to attack a KNLA stronghold opposite northern Thailand, across the Salween River “as soon as the rain stops and things dry up”.

Tay Lay Mya, a son of former KNU general Bo Mya and a surprise defector from the KNLA earlier this year, said both the SPDC and DKBA had their sights set on KNLA Fifth Brigade in the coming months.

The once-traditional time for major military offensives by the Burmese Army is the dry season, which begins late in the year, about November, and continues through until April.

Both sides are now well-advanced in their preparations for heavy fighting.

One senior KNLA commander involved in these preparations predicted as many as 2,000 Karen refugees could leave Burma during the dry season as the battles ensue.

Last Updated ( Monday, 12 October 2009 13:05 )  

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