The Arakan Army has captured two key military units in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state, giving it effective control of Minbya township and putting it in a position to challenge junta control of the state capital, according to an ethnic rebel alliance and sources in the region.
On Tuesday morning, the Arakan Army, or AA, routed Light Infantry Battalions 379 and 541 – the two junta battalions that remained in Minbya after the ethnic rebels captured the 380th battalion on Jan. 28 – the Three Brotherhood Alliance, of which the AA is a member, said in a statement.
“All junta soldiers surrendered to the AA,” said a resident who, like others interviewed for this report, spoke on condition of anonymity due to security concerns. It wasn’t clear how many soldiers this entailed, but the latest estimates by military experts suggest most battalions in the Burmese Army have around 200 men.
The takeover means “the AA now controls Minbya,” he said. People are worried about possible airstrikes by the military and “don’t dare go outside.”
The advances are the latest in a series of victories for the Three Brotherhood Alliance, which launched a campaign in October on junta forces in the northern and western parts of the country.
In northern Rakhine and neighboring Chin state, the AA seized arms and ammunition during several attacks on junta positions in January.
On Jan. 16, nearly 300 junta troops surrendered to the AA after it took control of two major military junta encampments in Kyauktaw township. And on Jan. 24, the Three Brotherhood Alliance said in a statement that the AA had won full control of Pauktaw, a port city just 16 miles (25 kilometers) east of the Rakhine capital Sittwe.
The takeovers follow the AA’s occupation of the entirety of western Chin’s Paletwa region – a mere 18 kilometers (11 miles) from the border with Bangladesh – in November, after it ended a ceasefire that had been in place with the junta since the military’s Feb. 1, 2021, coup d’etat.
The Three Brotherhood Alliance claimed in a statement late on Tuesday that the AA has now captured all but two of the 10 light infantry battalions under the aegis of the No. 9 Military Operations Command in Kyauktaw. They include the 379th, 380th and 541th battalions in Minbya; the 374th, 376th and 539th in Kyauktaw; and 378th and 540th in Mrauk-U township – the last two of which were also taken on Tuesday morning, the alliance said.
The two remaining light infantry battalions under the No. 9 Military Operations Command are 377th in Mrauk-U and 375th in Kyautaw, according to the Three Brotherhood Alliance, which added that the AA had also taken control of Artillery Battalion 377 in Kyauktaw.
Central Rakhine offensive
No. 9 Military Operations Command in central Rakhine’s Kyauktaw township is one of three junta command centers in the state, the other two being No. 5 in southern Rakhine’s Toungup township and No. 15 in northern Rakhine’s Buthidaung township.
A Rakhine-based military observer told RFA that the AA is focusing on taking control of No. 9 Military Operations Command so that it can launch offensives from the region against battalions under No. 5 and No. 15.
“If the AA can capture the [Operations Command] in Kyauktaw, then they will control the central area of the state,” the observer said. “This area is important for military offensives, so the AA could use it to launch strategic attacks on the military in other areas.”
The observer noted that the junta is ceding battalions and townships despite its use of the air force, navy and ground troops, suggesting that it no longer has the capacity to counter AA offensives.
He also suggested that if the AA is able to take complete control of Mrauk-U and Kyauktaw, it would likely push on to fight for control of the capital Sittwe and Ann township, where the junta’s Western Military Headquarters is located.
“If the junta loses these towns, it can be assumed that the next phase of battles will occur in Sittwe … and Ann,” he said. “It may then spread further to Buthidaung and Rathedaung townships.”
The AA has yet to issue any statements about the junta battalions they have captured, casualties suffered in the fighting, or the number of military troops who have surrendered.
Another resident monitoring the military situation in Rakhine told RFA that the AA could assume control of as many as five townships in the north of the state by the end of February, before advancing south.
“We earlier thought that the AA would proceed with attacks in southern Rakhine only in 2025, after first taking control of the north,” he said. “However, they have made significant gains in Ramree and Toungup townships in a short span of time. The junta soldiers have fled [across the borders] to Bangladesh and India, and more soldiers will surrender soon.”
In its statement on Tuesday, the Three Brotherhood Alliance said it also expects that the AA will fully capture the Taung Pyo Let Wei and Taung Pyo Let Yar border outposts north of Rakhine’s Maungdaw township along the border with Bangladesh, days after launching attacks on the two areas.
The alliance claimed that AA fighters had located the bodies of several members of the junta-affiliated Border Guard Forces killed in the fighting and confiscated a large cache of arms and ammunition, adding that “more than 200 junta soldiers fled the area to Bangladesh.”
Meanwhile, fighting remains fierce in Ramree township, where the AA launched attacks on a military outpost in December, residents of the area said. More than 10,000 civilians have fled the clashes and at least 60 homes were destroyed in military airstrikes and artillery attacks, they said.
The junta has yet to release any statements related to the military situation in Rakhine state.
Attempts by RFA to contact junta spokesman Major General Zaw Min Tun and AA spokesman Khaing Thukha went unanswered Wednesday.
In the three months since the AA ended its ceasefire, more than 110 civilians have been killed and at least 250 injured in fighting in Rakhine state, according to data compiled by RFA.
Translated by Aung Naing and Htin Aung Kyaw. Edited by Joshua Lipes and Malcolm Foster.