Myanmar’s junta chief faces growing criticism over military failures: group

Dramatic defeats have led to a collapse of army morale but it is likely to remain entrenched.
By RFA Staff
Myanmar’s junta chief faces growing criticism over military failures: group Myanmar’'s junta chief Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, who ousted the elected government in a coup on Feb. 1, 2021, presides at an army parade on Armed Forces Day in Naypyidaw, Myanmar, March 27, 2021.
Stringer/File Photo/Reuters

Updated at 18:45 ET on May 30, 2024.

Unprecedented humiliating defeats for Myanmar’s military in its war against ethnic minority and pro-democracy insurgents are putting mounting pressure on junta leader Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, who is facing widespread criticism and calls to step down, a think tank said in a report on Thursday.

But despite the junta’s dramatic failures since late last year, and the loss of much of its control of Myanmar’s periphery, the military is not on the brink of collapse and is likely to remain ensconced and unleashing air strikes and “chaotic violence” for some time, the International Crisis Group said.

Myanmar’s junta leader’s days in charge could be numbered,” the group said in its report.

Commander in chief Min Aung Hlaing overthrew an elected government led by Aung San Suu Kyi in early 2021, ending a decade of tentative reforms in a country that had been ruled by the military since 1962.

The coup triggered widespread protests that evolved into an insurgency in which pro-democracy activists have taken up arms and joined forces with ethnic minority guerrilla forces battling for self-determination for decades.

Several insurgent groups launched offensives late last year and have made striking progress in some areas, particularly in border regions.

“The military’s recent failures have been dramatic …  some of the most rapid, significant defeats in the Myanmar military’s history, including some particularly humiliating ones,” the Brussels-based group said.

A spokesman for the junta was not immediately available for comment.

Myanmar’s junta chief Min Aung Hlaing arrives to deliver a speech during a ceremony to mark the country’s Armed Forces Day in Naypyidaw on March 27, 2024. (Stringer/AFP)

Morale in the overstretched military has collapsed undermining its ability to launch counter offensives, a corrosive effect that would be difficult for the regime to reverse, said the group, adding that the blame is falling on Min Aung Hlaing.

“The military-connected elite in Naypyitaw see him as bearing responsibility, and they are expressing their frustration with unprecedented candor. Senior regime officials and military officers are now briefing against the junta leader in meetings with diplomats, local business leaders, journalists and personal acquaintances – something that seemed unimaginable just six months ago.”

But with no institutional mechanism for removing Min Aung Hlaing, it was difficult to predict if or when other officers might move against him.

“Given the level of discontent, he could nevertheless face a plot to remove him,” the group said.

However, the junta leader’s departure would be unlikely to end Myanmar’s war.

“While a change in leader could present an opportunity for the regime to seek an off-ramp from the crisis, the level of polarization in society triggered by the coup and subsequent violence has entrenched a siege mentality in the higher echelons of the military and a sense that they are fighting an existential battle against resistance forces, it said.

“The regime is likely to remain ensconced in Naypyitaw for now, taking vengeance from the air and prompting chaotic violence for some time to come.”

Autonomous statelets

Meanwhile, the International Crisis Group said, the military's opponents are "focused on consolidating their hold on their ethnic homelands," rather than taking the fight to central Myanmar in a bid to topple the junta.

"The current trajectory is one in which various ethnic armies will tighten their grip on autonomous statelets in the periphery, while a weak regime brutally clings to power in the centre," it said. 

The group said that this fragmentation is likely to be an "impediment to ... the federal union that many in the country aspire to."

Anti-junta groups inside Myanmar, however, said that their goal remains to build a federal democratic state.

Salai Peter Thang, deputy chairman and chief of staff of the ethnic Chin National Defense Force in Chin state, said he doesn't expect Myanmar to be "divided into pieces," as the International Crisis Group suggests in its report.

"Each ethnic armed group is trying to take control of its own original land and territory, but the [goal] that we have long dreamt of is one where all sovereign states are united to become a federal democratic union," he said. "What [the report] said is that if the current trajectory continues like this. But I don't think it will go on like this for long."

Khin Maung Swe, deputy secretary from the Ministry of Defense under the shadow National Unity Government said that rebel forces are focused on "eradicating the military dictatorship" before forming a federal union.

"We are altogether marching for the same goal," he said.

Than Soe Naing, a political and military commentator, said he doesn't expect Myanmar's various ethnic armies to "sit back and relax" if they are able to liberate their states from junta rule.

"We hope that cooperation [among these armed groups] will occur," he said. "What [the International Crisis Group] said is a reflection of the current situation during the current phase of the war. From this situation, there is the hope that most of them will join together and fight to end the military dictatorship."

A former military officer who spoke on condition of anonymity due to security concerns told RFA that Myanmar is not necessarily destined to break apart in the wake of the war.

"There is only one point to remember -- what the military has said and done so far was wrong," he said. "But this is not something that cannot be corrected. It can be fixed ... [before] Myanmar reaches the status of a failed state."

Edited by Mike Firn, Taejun Kang and Joshua Lipes.

This story has been updated to include comments by Salai Peter Thang, Khin Maung Swe, Than Soe Naing, and a former military officer on the prospect of forming a federal union in Myanmar.


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Mike Mitchell
May 30, 2024 06:38 PM

MAH needs to be sleeping very lightly at night. He could easily be removed/arrested/killed in an "unfortunate" accident and those taking his place sue for peace talks to preserve the military. We'll see.