Country Risk

Recent attacks by Arakan Army indicate significant offensives against military likely in Myanmar, involving ambushes and IEDs

11 January 2019

Myanmar border police patrol the fence in the ’no man’s land’ zone between Myanmar and Bangladesh in Rakhine state during a government-organised visit for journalists on 24 August 2018. Source: Phyo Hein Kyaw/AFP/Getty Images

Key Points

  • The AA carried out co-ordinated assaults against border police posts on 4 January. Video footage suggests the use of newer AK-series assault rifles, machine guns, and sniper rifles.
  • It is highly likely that the upsurge in violence in Rakhine is sustained by increasing numbers of AA militants.
  • AA militants have the potential to carry out significant attacks against the military, which would probably kill a high number of security forces personnel and cause significant damage to military posts.
  • It is now likely that existing Tatmadaw (national military) forces in Rakhine will be bolstered by additional out-of-area battalions, but a breakdown in the unilateral ceasefire that was recently implemented in Kachin and Shan states will probably diversify the Tatmadaw's focus.

On 4 January 2019, the Arakan Army (AA) militant group carried out co-ordinated assaults, operating at least at platoon strength, on four posts manned by the paramilitary Border Guard Police in the northern part of Buthidaung Township in Myanmar's Rakhine state, close to the border with Bangladesh. At least 13 police officers were killed and nine wounded in the attacks, with video footage subsequently released apparently showing that at least one base was overrun by evidently well-equipped AA militants using newer AK-series assault rifles, machine guns, and sniper rifles as opposed to the group's previous use of rudimentary assault rifles and small-arms, and home-made crude improvised explosive devices (IEDs). The AA is probably receiving logistical support from other ethnic insurgent groups, mostly the Northern Alliance - Burma (NA-B), of which AA is a member.

More broadly, an increasing number of engagements between the AA and the Tatmadaw (the national military) in late 2018 reflected a pattern of violence that has affected almost all of the state's northern townships, particularly Rathedaung and Buthidaung, where according to state media the AA has reportedly been able to operate in company strength of more than 100 militants, apparently intent on dominating stretches of the border with Bangladesh.

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