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Armed Clashes Rage Between Tatmadaw Forces and United Insurgent Groups in Myanmar's Karen State
Recently, the town of Lay Lay Kaw located in Karen State’s Myawaddy Township saw frequent engagements between the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) and Myanmar’s military known as the Tatmadaw, which took control of Myanmar’s government in February 2021. Lay Lay Kaw has been under the control of the Karen National Liberation Army’s Brigade 6 since the town’s settlement in 2016 and has been a place of refuge for activists and civilians on strike since the violent crackdowns began against anti-junta protesters last year. Fighting has broken out in Lay Lay Kaw and surrounding villages throughout mid-December into January in response to forceful incursions by Tatmadaw forces.
On December 14th, around 200 troops from the Tatmadaw’s Light Infantry Battalion 560 commanded by 13th Military Operations Command conducted a raid in the town capturing two small arms weapons and arresting between 30 to 40 civilians ranging from activists, civil servants, suspected members of the town’s local People’s Defense Force (PDF), and two members of the National League for Democracy. The next day vice-chairman of the KNLA’s political wing, the Karen National Union (KNU), went into town hoping to negotiate with the Tatmawdaw for a cease to the ongoing raids and arrests. When the negotiations failed, clashes broke out in Lay Lay Kaw and surrounding villages over the following weeks.
Firefights broke out the morning of December 15th, when a joint force made up of troops from KNLA’s Brigade 6, and a splinter group from the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA), as well as various groups from the town’s People’s Defense Forces, engaged Light Infantry Battalion 560 to push them out of the town. Light Infantry Battalion 560 was supported by heavy artillery and received reinforcements from local Border Guard Forces (BGF) loyal to the Tatmadaw. On the same day, an estimated 20 shells landed across Myawaddy township in Lay Lay Kaw and Mae Htaw Thaw Lay targeting KNLA-PDF coalition forces. Around 1:00 PM the following day intense fighting broke out again in the town. Just outside the town, an ambush was conducted by KNLA Brigade 6 on a Tatmadaw convoy headed South towards Lay Lay Kaw passing through the village Bei Hee Ka Law. According to PDF sources, at least 8 Tatmadaw and 2 BGF troops were captured, and an additional 18 were killed in action on December 16th. KNLA and PDF troop-obtained 6 MA-variant rifles and 2 M16A2s were captured.
Clashes continued to break out between the two sides on December 19th which led to 7 captured Tatmadaw troops along with several rifles, fragmentation grenades, a 60 mm mortar along with HE mortar shells, and ammunition.
The following day, on December 20th, fighting had scattered across multiple villages located in between Lay Lay Kaw and Myawaddy township with regime fighter jets being spotted over the area.
As clashes came to an end on December 20th, KNLA-PDF forces reported that Tatmadaw forces and their allies had suffered around 50 casualties. Over 3,000 civilians were displaced at this point finding refuge in a temporary displacement camp located in the village of Hpalu located along the Thai border. The KNU has called on the United Nations to implement a no-fly zone over the Thai-Myanmar border due to sightings of Tatmadaw aircraft. According to the nation’s government in exile known as the National Unity Government (NUG), at least 68 junta troops were killed in action as of December 21st.
On December 23rd, Tatmadaw forces ramped up their offensive as a convoy of around 40 vehicles was spotted heading towards KNLA outposts around Lay Lay Kaw supported by airstrikes. Around the same time airstrikes hit Lay Lay Kaw, artillery began shelling the hills nearby Mae Htaw Lay. According to Padoh Saw Taw Nee, spokesman for the KNU, shelling was still heard as of December 27th. Despite aerial bombardment and heavy artillery shelling KNLA Brigade 6, local PDF, and DKBA troops would continue to engage Tatmadaw forces.
Fighting continued on January 3rd of this year in Lay Lay Kaw between the KNLA and Tatmadaw. Infantry Battalion 207 and Light Infantry Division 44 entered the southern part of the town with artillery support in an attempt to push out KNLA forces. Clashes lasted for three days as KNLA Battalion 27 defended the town street by street from attacking forces. Footage from the fighting on January 3rd was uploaded from the side of KNLA Battalion 27.
According to the KNU, over 30 artillery shells landed in the town over those three days of engagements forcing more residents to flee the town. The KNU also stated airstrikes and artillery bombardment from the Tatmadaw has forced over 15,000 refugees into Thailand. Since fighting began on December 15th, 2021, the KNLA and PDF have claimed the lives of over 80 Tatmadaw troops in their attempt to take Lay Lay Kaw. The number of KNLA, PDF, and DKBA casualties sustained during the defense of Lay Lay Kaw has not been released.
As the Tatmadaw’s harsh anti-government crackdown and incursions by the Tatmadaw to conduct raids continue in Karen State. Clashes between the KNLA, forces aligned with the KNLA, and the Tatmadaw will still occur. The fierce resistance by Karen forces could result in more government assets being sent to the region, resulting in more intense battles in the region.