The Shan Stated of Burma – now Myanmar – have a long history of conflict, and an even longer history of opium production. Indeed the border areas in one region which includes Thailand and Laos are commonly referred to as the Golden Triangle – one the primary regions of global drug production. Equally important, the Shan states also border with southern China.
While enormous amounts of attention has been given to the history of drug traffic in the region, most people do not know that it was one of the very first venues for CIA operations at the very beginning of the Cold War. Actually those operations had little to do with the nation of Burma (which adamantly opposed them) and everything to do with the Republic of China (ROC) and Thailand. In contrast to more well-known CIA operations, the operation (in support of ROC forces in the region) supported a series of actual land incursions into southern China and was intended to divert Chinese Army forces.
The incursions were an embarrassing military failure and an international public relations disaster at the newly formed United Nations; the Eisenhower Administration abandoned them relatively quickly, turning the CIA’s attention to first Iran and then Guatemala. The net result was that armed ROC formations and various rebel groups were left to their own devices for funding, turned increasingly to drug sales, and leveraging new modes of transportation which had been used to carry in weapons and supplies for the Chinese incursions. Among the new options were small air fields and Taiwanese based aircraft. Over the years new air routes developed over both Thailand and Laos.We detail that early CIA operation in Shadow Warfare, and go on to trace its impact in the growth of Golden Triangle drug trafficking though the 1960’s. That legacy involved the movement of the ROC forces from point to point, at times attacked by the Burmese and at other times by Chinese forces invited in by Burma. Ultimately it led into Laos and to huge escalation in shipments during the fighting across SE Asia.
All that is interesting in a historical context but certain contemporary news recently brought it to my attention. Readers of Shadow Warfare may be interested to follow the Shan State story into today’s headlines. The crux of the matter is that as in many nations, the remote Shan States have always been neglected by the Central Government (very similar to the situation in several African nations today, particularly in Nigeria) and that neglect has led to decades of distrust, rebellion and hostility. The rebel groups involved always need to raise money, if drugs are available they have the weapons and organization to assume control over established drug traffic. If drugs are not available, they often turn to human trafficking – from kidnap and ransom to slave sales (as we see in Nigeria). And while CIA operations have often provided a multiplication factor by dramatically improving local logistics and transport options (in Afghanistan that first involved large quantities of small pickups shipped in to rebel groups through Pakistan), the rebellions and the trades continue, with or without American involvement.
Back in the early 1950’s, following the CIA’s short lived activity, Burma actually invited the Red Chinese Army across its borders to engage the ROC formations. In 2015 Myanmar is taking a different approach, using its own military assets and making mistakes which are increasingly annoying the Chinese. If you want to follow the history in Shadow Warfare into current events you can find more details here:
View story at Medium.com