Wednesday, August 24, 2011

1978 Opium War in Golden Triangle (2)

(Concise translation of Chapter-2 from Thaung Wai Oo’s “My Opium Operations”.)

The last days of July 1978. I was on my way back to IB-67 in Maing-yae from Ba Htoo Infantry School after attending the 47th Infantry Company Commander Training Class.

I had already served nearly ten years in South Eastern Command (Ya-ta-kha) and during that time I’d been to Ba Htoo Military Town only once. I was then attending the Army Corporal Training School to learn about Infantry-Small-Arms.

I was originally a bad shot back in the OTS (Officer Training School). Thus I was sent to the Small Arms training by my first ever battalion IB-17 in Pharpun. Then was the first time I’d been to Ba Htoo Town.

Ba Htoo cantonment town was established in the honor of Colonel Ba Htoo who was killed during the Japanese Revolution in 1945. The town was right next to the Yat Sout Town in Southern Shan State. And so many people called the town Yat Sout Ba Htoo.

Shan State Map.
To get to Ba Htoo we had to take the Thazi-Shwenyaung Train. From Shwenyaung to Ba Htoo was another 36 miles by car. Rural Ba Htoo is surrounded by the mountains and during the summer and winter the town is most pleasant and pretty.

During the three months training there we just shot guns, all sorts of gun. The accommodation was good and most classes were done inside and undercover. Food was good and we didn’t need to go far at all. So I was really very happy in Ba Htoo that first time.

But the second time in Ba Htoo I couldn’t be happy at all. It was during the raining season and the training was for the infantry company commanders. Thus we had to travel a lot on foot and the red mud of Ba Htoo got me real bad as we had had Outdoor Exercise every bloody week. And there were too many forty or fifty mile long L.R.Ps (Long Range Patrols) too.

After that second stay at Ba Htoo Town I got back to IB-67 at Maing-yae and I had to prepare my company for coming operations. My only platoon commander was Lt. Kyaw Htay. He was from Prome and a graduate of OTS Intake 49. He was a boxer and he loved to brawl and got into trouble so many times.

Our Battalion CO called him Mohammad Ali while his men called him Shwe Ba the most famous action actor then in Burma.

After a whole week of intensive training and preparations my Company was battle-ready for Aung Kyaw Moe Operation against the opium trafficking Shan-Chinese insurgent army (MTA).

Aung Kyaw Moe Operation and Me

MTA's opium mule caravan.
One day in the August of 1978. Heavy rain was coming down non-stop. That day was a day before the D-day of Aung Kyaw Moe Operation.

All the commanding officers participating in the Operation had to gather inside the Battalion Meeting Hall of our IB-67 in Maing-yae for the briefing given by the CO of Tangh-yang Tactical Command Colonel Myint Aung. 

“Okay, all the battalion commanders and the company commanders, listen. We’re going to smash the opium insurgents. You guys already have detail instructions. All the assigned targets are to be attacked simultaneously at the same time.

I want a clear victory. Do it aggressive and do it brave. The opium insurgents are nothing but the ruthless business operators. This operation is an important national task in ridding our country of opium and heroin. Try to reach your targets at appointed times. All the columns have been given secret names.

Okay, if you guys have any question, ask me now?”

The GSO-3 (General Staff Officer 3) Captain Nyi Shin then explained the Operation to us by pointing out at the huge area map on the board with his long pointing stick. The Tactical Command Chief also answered all our questions.

“Okay, if no more question, you all are dismissed. Go back to your troops,” he then dismissed us and we came back.


Shan State North Map.
Two infantry battalions from the LIDs (Light Infantry Divisions) and our Maing-yae Company and Tangh-yang Company under the Tangh-yang Tactical Command had been assigned for the Operation. Since a LID battalion had five companies the whole operation involved all together 12 infantry companies.

Back then the opium-insurgent bases were mainly in the sector east of Lashio City. But the season then was rainy season and not yet the poppy harvesting time and thus the insurgents were not really active. They were sheltering in their bases waiting for the opium harvest and it was a right time to attack them hard at their bases.

So the participating companies were given individual targets to strike simultaneously as part of the army-operation Aung Kyaw Moe.

The assigned task for my company was to leave Maing-yae by trucks to Mang-kurt on one day before D-day and clear the area of Kone-zone near Mone-mah at the north of Mang-kurt. The Kone-zone sector was the main base of the well-known opium-buyer and insurgent-organizer named Khun Yee and we were to capture him alive if we could or kill him otherwise.

As soon as the briefing was over the Tactical Command Chief and his party left for Tangh-yang and the LID battalion commanders returned to their temporary camps on the Lashio- Tangh-yang Strategic Road.

That afternoon my company left Maing-yae by three trucks for our garrison at Mang-kurt. We were primed and ready for the battle.

Our March to Kone-zone

We reached Mang-kurt just before the sunset as none of our trucks broke down on that trip.

The camp commander in Mang-kurt was Lt. Kyaw Ngwe and I had to explain him our operation quietly as it was a secret operation. I also kept the whole company inside the camp that night so that the people of little town Mang-kurt would not notice our arrival or departure.

“Okay, listen, the whole company, you men cook and eat now. And cook again for the trip. CSM Khan Kyin Khaing, prepare to continue the trip tonight. Do not let the men out of the camp at all.”

I and Lt. Kyaw Htay then paid a visit to the house of Khun Maha the Town-Lord and leader of the town’s pro-Government militia Tha-ka-tha-pha.

The Town-Lord Khun Maha once was one of the leaders of Shan opium insurgent army (MTA). But he became an addict himself while trafficking opium. His health deteriorating he conveniently surrendered to the Government with his men and became the town’s militia leader.

“Oh, my captains, come on, come inside,” he greeted us and invited us in after seeing us.
“I thought I heard the trucks earlier. So, coming from where and going to where?”
“No, we aren’t going anywhere. Just replacing the men here. So any news here, U Khun Maha?”
“Not really, Captain. Did you hear anything?”
“No, not really. But you know, no news and no news and then suddenly our Naung-laing camp was attacked, just recently. So I’m worried!
“Don’t worry Captain. If I hear anything I’ll tell you.”

MTA leader and drug warlord Khun Sa.
He was a close relative of MTA leader Khun Sa and also a distant relative of Kone-zone’s Khun Yee our main target.

“How about North Mang-kurt, do you hear any news there?”
“No, nothing at all. The place is quiet like before.”

We came back to the Camp after a short chat with him.

“Ko Kyaw Htay, I think Khun Yee is in his village. But Khun Maha didn’t say anything. What do you think?”
“I think he is, brother.”
“Okay, let’s eat first and then we go on once dark!”


Rain was heavily pouring down non-stop. It was August and torrential rain was normal in the region. In the rainy dark night we quietly marched from Mang-kurt to Mone-mah. The unsealed dirt road was quite wide but the wet road was slippery and men kept on slipping and falling.

My aim was to hit Kone-zone on 6 am at the daybreak.

“Okay, Lt. Kyaw Htay, speed up your men, we need to get there in time.”
“Captain, it’s so dark, we can’t see at all. All my men have never been this area before too. To speed up is impossible.”

He was right as I couldn’t see ahead at all in the darkness and the heavy rain.

“Okay, let the point use the torchlight. Just cover the light. I don’t want the light seen from distance.”

Once the torchlight was allowed our trip went faster. The road was straight but a bit hilly and nearly 20 miles long. The first village on the Road was Taung-lun a Chinese only village. Time was midnight and the whole village was asleep. Not even a single light was seen and we just quietly walked past the village.

“Lt. Kyaw Htay, go faster. We are competing with other units and we must reach our target on the H-hour.”

Rain was still heavy. But it was good for us as the enemy would be caught off-guard. Surprise attack is a prerequisite of victory in warfare. We hit Mone-mah Village just after four in the early morning. It was a big village with at least 100 households.

“This is Mone-mah, Captain,” Lt. Kyaw Htay quietly reported.
“Just get us to Kone-zone. Mone-mah is other units’ target. Seems so quiet, I think other units haven’t reached here yet. Good. We got here first and no one knows we are on the road.”


Shan soldiers of Mong Tai Army (MTA).
We just walked past the sleeping village and after less than an hour on the road we hit the village of Kone-zone two miles away from Mone-mah Village. It was a small village with only about 25 households. Everyone in the village was asleep but immediately woken up by our surrounding and entering of their little village.

And the villagers were fearful and really scared of us as they didn’t expect Burmese soldiers that early at dawn inside their opium growing village.

“Don’t be scared. We’re not gonna do any harm. Just show us Khun Yee’s house.”

We found Khun Yee’s prominent house right in the middle of small poor village. Only his house was on the fenced-block. All other houses were thatch-roofed and split-bamboo-walled but his was corrugated-iron- sheet-roofed and pine-timber-plank-walled.

Khun Yee wasn’t there and nor his wife. Only Khun Yee’s old parents were there. The wife was in Tangh-yang and Khun Yee was also on a trip. We searched the house but didn’t find anything suspicious.

“Yeah, Lt. Kyaw Htay, what do you think of the situation?”
“I can’t say much, Captain. According to our intelligence he already had Opium bought and accumulated here. He supposed to have at least 10 mules and horses and also nearly 40-50 men with him here.”
“So, we just have to continue clearing the area.”

While I was discussing with Lt. Kyaw Htay Lance Corporal Nyi Kurt and his men from a guard patrol came back in.

“Captain, here we caught a Shan boy with a Carbine and a horse!”
“Wow, how did you catch him?”
“He came in from the North with Carbine across his shoulder and leading the horse. I called out to him in Shan to come in. So he thought we were his men and came in and so we grabbed him.”

Lance Corporal Nyi Kurt was a Lwela man and also fluent in Shan Language. He was originally from Ving-ngun Shan Militia (KKY) led by Maha Pyinnyar. When Ving-ngun Militia was disbanded and absorbed into our army he was made a lance corporal and a section leader in my company.

He was literate and a respected leader in his old militia and he could speak and read both Shan and Chinese fluently. Battalion had already promised him a promotion to a corporal very soon and then to a sergeant.

“That’s real good, Corporal. A prisoner in the early morning. Can you ask him where his boss Khun Yee is?

The little boy soldier was in a half uniform/half mufti of camouflage shirt and Levis Jean. He looked like only thirteen or fourteen years old. He was just a child soldier. Lance Nyi Kurt asked him in Shan. Being a child he didn’t dare to lie and he immediately answered.

“Captian, boy said Khun Yee doesn’t live in the big house. Only when his wife is here he comes back. Rest of the time he lives in his camp.”
“Oh, so where is his camp? Ask him again. That’s important.”

Nyi Kurt asked the boy again and the Shan boy quickly answered.

“Just over a mile ahead. Khun Yee is there too.”
“Hey, let’s go get them. Lt. Kyaw Htay, you come along with two platoons. CSM and a platoon stay here and guard the village,” I rapidly ordered the battle plan.
“Okay, Nyi Kurt, ask the boy to guide us there. Let’s get there quick.”


WE left all our heavy backpacks and equipment in the village and almost ran with just guns and light equipment on us. Day was already broken and in the morning light we reached the opium camp in less than half an hour.

Seized drugs and chemicals.
There we found five large thatch-roofed and thatch-walled huts just beside the wide road. But not a single soul was there as the insurgents had already left the camp in hurry. The largest hut was used as the stable for horses and mules and three smaller ones were the living quarters.

The last hut was their opium refinery. Inside were about 50 of one kilo raw opium bundles they couldn’t carry along with them. They seemed to be refining the raw opium not just into morphine base but also into heroin too as we found the chemicals, glass containers, and the plastic containers of acids used in producing heroin in the makeshift lab.

“I think they are cooking heroin here,” I thought aloud.

Soon one of our patrols caught a villager coming from the northeast and he said he just came back from his farm.

“Have you seen Khun Yee and his men on the way?” we asked him and he said he saw Khun Yee and his men with 10 horses and mules packed with opium bundles rushing towards Naung-lai.

“Are we chasing Khun Yee now, Captain?” Lt. Kyaw Htay asked.
“No, too many of our troops in this area. If we go out of our grids and get into others’ grids we can be mistaken as enemy. I already got into serious troubles two three times with deadly friendly-fires. Let’s go back to Kone-zone.”

At 6 in the morning I reported our actions by radio to Tactical Command at Tangh-yang. Tactical Command ordered us to backtrack along our way and clear the Mone-mah Village. So we carried all the stuff we captured and rushed back to Mone-mah.

It was too late when we got there as all the insurgents previously there had fled and we found only the villagers. No traces of our columns supposed to be there too.

“What happened with our columns?” I called and asked the Tactical Command and the Command simply replied that because of heavy rain all other columns except mine couldn’t reach their targets in time. Especially those columns had to carry heavy-weapons and the shells unlike us so they couldn’t travel as fast as us.

The GSO-3 Captain Nyi Shin said in his radio message, “Captain Thet Oo, so far only your Galone Company has reached the target. All other columns missed their targets and the insurgents had fled.”
“That’s great. Lt. Kyaw Htay, only us the Galones reached the target in time. The rest didn’t make their targets at all,” I had to tell him that we beat other columns.

The Galone (Garuda) Column was the secret code name given to our company by the Tangh-yang Tactical Command.

1978 Opium War in Golden Triangle (3)