In a recent development in Myanmar's political landscape, the temporary president of the National Unity Government (NUG), Duwa Lashi La, claimed that they have control over approximately 60% of the country. This statement marks a significant shift in the ongoing struggle for governance in the country, shedding light on the growing resistance against the military junta.
The Emergence of the People's Defense Forces
When the People's Defense Forces (PDFs) first emerged in Myanmar in 2021, they were viewed by many as hastily organized groups of young vigilantes who would be quickly overrun by the junta's military force, known as the Sit Tat. However, contrary to these initial perceptions, the PDFs have grown in size, organization, and capability over the last year and a half, now posing a substantial threat to the junta's viability.
The PDFs lack heavy equipment, an advanced command structure, and international support. Yet, they have demonstrated remarkable tactical ingenuity and resilience. With improvements in their command structure and weaponry, they could potentially expand the territory under resistance control and hasten the junta's demise.
People's Defense Force is an umbrella term for three types of armed groups that have emerged since the coup: PDFs, Local Defense Forces (LDFs), and People's Defense Teams (PaKhaPha-PDTs). The PDFs are generally larger armed units formed or recognized by the NUG and several ethnic armed organizations (EAOs), many of which have been fighting the Sit Tat for decades.
Facing the Military Junta
After tolerating peaceful protests for a few days following its February 2021 coup, the Sit Tat committed horrific atrocities against the protesters, expecting to subjugate a population unwilling to return to military rule. Instead, it unleashed a revolutionary energy leading to the emergence of the PDFs, especially in areas of the country inhabited by the Buddhist Bamar majority, where the Sit Tat has historically drawn recruits and political support.
Given their fragmented nature and rapid development, the PDFs remain mostly unknown to most analysts and international policymakers. However, these rebel groups, which have become battle-hardened and more coordinated, now play a crucial and potentially decisive role in Myanmar's future security landscape.
Strength in Numbers and Strategy
Based on recent interviews, there are approximately 65,000 total PDF troops, with around 20% of them equipped with military-grade weapons and another 40% possessing homemade weapons. As of October 2022, there were around 300 PDF battalions, each with 200 to 500 troops. Sixty-three additional battalions are awaiting NUG recognition.
Most PDFs are primarily loyal to or were formed by the NUG. Regardless of their national level affiliation, PDFs work most closely with military division commands (MDCs), which operate semi-autonomously. Current PDF deployment and operations indicate that MDCs are becoming more involved in PDF operational strategy.
The Resistance's Future Prospects
With the NUG striving for stronger unity between these groups, the future of resistance against the military junta in Myanmar appears to be on the rise. Upon the end of the military junta's rule, the NUG advocates for the formation of a transitional government to prepare Myanmar to become a democratic nation.
Duwa Lashi La emphasized in an interview the need for a single chain of command and high military discipline among the resistance forces. He also highlighted the NUG's difficulty in providing adequate supplies of weapons and ammunition to the growing numbers of People's Defense Forces.
As Myanmar's political landscape continues to evolve, the future of the country remains uncertain. However, the growing resistance against the military junta and the claimed control by the NUG over 60% of the country's territory mark significant developments in the ongoing struggle for governance in Myanmar.