Rebel drones strike military base and airport in Myanmar capital

Myanmar military
Myanmar military

An alliance of Burmese rebel groups has staged a rare drone attack on Myanmar’s ruling junta, targeting the capital’s heavily fortified army headquarters, an air base and the national airport.

The assault is hugely embarrassing for the country’s army, which seized power in a coup three years ago, and suggests the resistance is making huge gains, according to experts.

The National Unity Government (NUG) – an alliance of anti-junta groups – said they had deployed 29 drones armed with explosives targeting various key sites across the capital Naypyidaw.

“The synchronised drone operations were simultaneously executed against [Naypyidaw] targeting both the military headquarters… and Alar air base,” NUG’s deputy secretary Mg Mg Swe told BBC Burmese.

The military said they “successfully shot down and destroyed” seven drones, and that they had caused no damage or casualties. It was not clear what had happened to the other drones.

Naypyidaw, which is the junta’s traditional centre of power, is home to much of its defence hardware and heavily defended.

The attack is likely to rattle the military, which is now fighting resistance groups on multiple fronts.

“The significance of the drone attacks can’t be overstated,” John Quinley, director of Fortify Rights, told the Telegraph. “This means that the resistance is really making huge gains against the Myanmar junta.”

“This is another embarrassment for the military, and a propaganda win for the resistance,” Richard Horsey, a senior Myanmar adviser for Crisis Group, said. “This shows the vulnerability of the capital and its military headquarters to such attacks, and the limited options available to the regime to prevent them.”

He added that a similar attack was deployed at the same air force base in September, and that such incidents look set to become increasingly common.

“As resistance forces gain greater experience with armed drones, and improved technology, these attacks are likely to increase in number and impact,” Mr Horsey added.

The NUG earlier this year said more than 60 per cent of the country’s territory is now under the control of resistance forces. That claim could not be independently verified.

Drones have become a critical tool for anti-military groups, and were central to the success of an offensive launched by resistance groups dubbed ‘Operation 1027’ in October, which sparked a surge in fighting that has posed the “biggest military challenge to date” for the junta.

Myanmar’s entrenched civil war has plunged the country into turmoil and displaced some 2.8 million people since the military launched a coup in February 2021 and jailed then-leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

The latest attack on Naypyidaw comes after Unicef data revealed landmine-related civilian casualties almost tripled in 2023 as fighting escalated, with more than 1,000 people killed or wounded.

The UN agency said more than 20 per cent of victims were children, and warned the explosives have been used indiscriminately, by all sides in the conflict.

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