Burma’s Rebels’ Homemade Weapons vs. Modern Military


Ethnic resistance army fighters with Vietnam-era M-16 and wooden rifles. Photo by Antonio Graceffo.

Reporting from the Thai/Burma border

“We have done so much, with so little for so long, now we know we can do anything forever with nothing.” Old military saying, originally attributed to Konstantin Josef Jireček

In 2007-2008, when I was embedded with an ethnic resistance army in Myanmar (Burma), I saw rebel soldiers wearing flip-flops. Some had wooden, non-firing guns, while others had rifles left over from the 19th-century British army. There were muzzle-loaders, homemade spear guns, crossbows, and a plethora of other makeshift weapons. The best-equipped soldiers had M-16s and M-79 grenade launchers from the Vietnam War. Modern weapons included cheap plastic copies of AK-47s. Over fifteen years later, the rebels are still fighting with the dregs of the armory, and no Western power has come to their aid.

Ethnic resistance army fighter with a homemade rifle. Photo by Antonio Graceffo.
Improvised lock on a homemade rifle. Photo by Antonio Graceffo.


Burma’s ethnic minorities have been fighting against one repressive military regime after another since 1948. Last October, an alliance was formed between several ethnic armies supporting the National Unity Government (NUG) in exile. Launching coordinated attacks, the rebels are now advancing. Each day, another Tatmadaw (Burma army) position falls, and the rebels are steadily regaining control of territory in their ethnic states.

This turn of events is absolutely remarkable when one considers the disparity in weapons, training, and equipment between the Burmese junta and the ethnic resistance armies.

Ethnic resistance army fighter with an old British colonial-era rifle. Photo by Antonio Graceffo.


The Burmese military is largely funded by China, which seeks to gain access to Burma’s mineral resources, as well as complete the construction of a spy space and a naval installation on the Bay of Bengal in the Indian Ocean to threaten US Navy dominance of the region. The national security of India and of the United States, as well as any country dependent on shipping through the Indian Ocean, is at stake. However, very few US lawmakers are even aware of the conflict and the national security threat it poses to US interests.

The US and other Western nations have an arms embargo on Myanmar, but Russia and China are supplying the junta with weapons. When I was in the field, one of my purposes was to photograph as many of the Tatmadaw’s weapons as I could and to determine their origin. I was also listening on the radio to find out if there were Chinese or Russian troops in the field, which would have been a huge violation of international sanctions.

In addition to the small arms, the Tatmadaw has Russian and Chinese attack helicopters, fighter jets, and armored vehicles. At this point, the rebels control 50-70 percent of the landmass of the country. According to former US Special Forces officer David Eubanks, the founder of Free Burma Rangers, a faith-based cross-border aid organization, “In a set-piece battle, the Burmese army would win. But now, when the army moves, they have to move in at least a battalion-sized unit, with air support.”

Ethnic resistance army fighter riding double on a motorcycle into combat, wielding a hand-carved rifle designed to resemble a modern assault rifle. Photo courtesy of Free Burma Rangers.


Thaw Reh Est, a 47-year-old male and Secretary Number Two in the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP), the government in exile of the Karenni ethnic group, said that the Tatmadaw are basically prisoners on their own bases at this point. If they step outside of their strongholds, they will get shot with a musket, an arrow, or a bullet launched by a 50-year-old M-16. Resupply has to be airdropped to the government soldiers because if they sent a convoy, the rebels would destroy it.

Khu Ko Reh of the Karenni Civil Society Network explained that in parts of the country, there is a stalemate. The Tatmadaw cannot leave their bases, and the rebels cannot overrun them because of the landmines. Mehren, a home affairs diplomat for the Karenni government in exile, lost his leg to a landmine. He explained, “Each base has around 30 soldiers, but they have fortified their position with maybe 100 or 200 landmines.”

Pirate or soldier? Ethnic resistance army fighter with a muzzle-loading cap and ball pistol. Photo courtesy of Free Burma Rangers.

According to David Eubanks, “The NUG has trouble getting weapons and getting them in. Most of the weapons you see on the battlefield are very old Vietnam-era, then homemade shotguns and .22s. The knockoff hybrid fake M-16s, that look like a mix of real barrels and airsoft weapons made of plastic in China. They might fire 100 rounds or 1,000. At a glance, they look real.”

Wooden rifle, hand-carved to resemble an assault rifle, but it is actually a bolt-action. Photo courtesy of Free Burma Rangers.

Right now, the rebels need mine detectors and demining training. They also need a way to track and to take down the helicopters and fighter jets. Soldiers and leaders that I met with all know about the aid the US is giving to Ukraine and the weapons left in Afghanistan. They all made jokes that they would only need a small percentage of that money. “Even just one million dollars,” they insisted, and they could win the war.

The post Burma’s Rebels’ Homemade Weapons vs. Modern Military appeared first on The Gateway Pundit.

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