With the Myanmar military pressuring all ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) to sign the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA), non-signatory EAOs have responded by forming a loose military alliance, called the Northern Alliance, to strengthen their position against the military. As with many alliances in Myanmar’s history, the cohesiveness and long-term viability of the alliance is uncertain. Increased military operations by the Myanmar military against the groups in this alliance, particularly the increased use of remote violence, has resulted in the alliance groups shifting their tactics both politically and militarily.
In 2016, four EAOs formed the Northern Alliance. The driver behind the formation of the Northern Alliance was the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) which has been in conflict with the Myanmar military for several decades. From 1994-2011, the KIA had a bilateral ceasefire agreement with the Myanmar military which held. The conflict reignited in 2011 after the KIA rejected the military’s Border Guard Force (BGF) scheme which would have placed the KIA under the control of the military. At the time, the Myanmar military also had increased its presence in the Kachin region to guard the Chinese construction of the Myitsone Hydropower Dam which exacerbated tensions, leading eventually to the start of the current war.
The KIA has since sought to strengthen its position by providing training and support to the Arakan Army (AA), the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), and the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA). These four groups have fought alongside one another as allies in many battles, sometimes fighting as the ‘Northern Alliance’ and other times fighting jointly without the moniker.
Since 2016, there has been a significant increase in the use of remote violence between Myanmar state forces and the Northern Alliance groups (see Figure 1). This is primarily due to the Myanmar military’s increased use of air strikes, mortars, and heavy artillery to attack the groups’ positions. When the conflict with the KIA restarted, the KIA was at a slight advantage for a ground war given their familiarity with the mountainous terrain in Kachin and northern Shan state. The Myanmar military’s increased use of remote violence to wage war has put the KIA and allied groups at a disadvantage and has contributed to a shift in the alliance’s tactics. When the Northern Alliance attacked military and police outposts in northern Shan state in November 2016, they attributed their actions to the losses that they were suffering due to the Myanmar military’s aerial offensives and the resulting difficulty of fighting in the jungle, thus leading them to carry out an offensive on state forces based in an urban area.