TNLA Has Yet to Use Defense Missiles Against Burma Army

Tuesday, December 4, 2019

Although the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) is in possession of a surface-to-air missile system—known as SAM air defense missiles—they say they have yet to use the weapons in ongoing clashes with the Burma Army.

The missiles came to the attention of the public after the office of the Burmese military’s commander-in-chief reported on its official website on November 23 that they had captured TNLA weapons in Namhsan Township. Among the properties captured was a SAM missile (FN-6).

According to the TNLA’s Maj Mai Aik Kyaw, the armed group has not responded to the Burma Army’s repeated air strikes by deploying their own missiles.

“It’s true that they captured our air defense missiles. Some of the weapons are new—most of the new weapons are our weapons,” he explained, adding that many of the older weapons featured in the military’s press release photos did not belong to the TNLA.

The Burma Army said that they seized 170 TNLA weapons including an FN-6 surface-to-air missile, 46,265 rounds of ammunition, 246 grenades, and 885 boxes of gunpowder from three locations near Ho Mueng village in Hu Kheng village tract on November 22.

The TNLA contested the number of weapons that the Tatmadaw claims to have seized.

“We have lost more than 50 weapons…. They were able to capture our weapons because we have had strong clashes. They launched an airstrike on our temporary camps as well as repeatedly attacking us with heavy weapons. Therefore, we could not move our weapons. They captured those unmoved weapons,” Maj. Mai Aik Kyaw said.

Speaking to media outlets in a press conference on November 24, Maj-Gen Tun Tun Nyi—the vice chairperson of the Tatmadaw’s True News Information Team—said that the captured FN-6 missile was a “third generation weapon” produced since the year 2000.

“Most captured weapons are China-made. For instance, the FN-6… The price of an FN-6 weapon in 2009 was estimated at US$75,000 to $90,000 on the international weapons market,” he said.

Political analyst Maung Maung Soe told NMG that the TNLA and their allies have had such surface-to-air missiles for some time, noting that the United Wa State Army put their own similar missiles on display at the 30th anniversary commemoration of their armed group.

“The Northern Alliance has had SAM weapons for years. It’s not so strange. I’ve heard that they have had SAM weapons for the last two to three years,” he said.

As to why the TNLA has not yet deployed the missiles, Maung Maung Soe speculated that there were likely multiple contributing factors.

“First, they don’t want to shoot [the missiles] if they don’t really need to, because they are very expensive—and [the TNLA] are not in critical condition,” he explained. “If they use them, the clashes will escalate more and there will be more civilian casualties.”

The Burma Army also reported that they have taken over 41 TNLA military camps in northern Shan State to date, a claim that the TNLA has questioned, because, as Maj Mai Aik Kyaw said, “all of our military camps are mobile camps, temporary camps.”

“I don’t know how they calculated it. Our soldiers stayed for one to two days in some camps, one to two weeks in other camps and about one month in some camps. We don’t have a permanent military base,” he explained, adding that if temporary set-ups were included, then the Burma Army’s number of seized camps could be accurate.

The Burma Army and the TNLA had multiple clashes in Namhsan and Kyaukme townships from November 11-18. The Burma Army attacked the TNLA with 120-mm and 105-mm shells fired from heavy artillery. According to TNLA, the government forces have used at least 500 rounds of these shells in the clashes.

The TNLA also reported that the Burma Army had continued to launch air strikes in the clashes as of November 24.