A Myanmar junta military helicopter was shot down by an anti-regime Karen armed group and allied resistance forces in Karen State on Monday, killing a brigadier general and four other military officers onboard. It is the third junta aircraft shot down by anti-regime resistance forces this month.
The Eurocopter 365 helicopter came under a barrage of fire from Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) and allied People’s Defense Force fighters in Thingan Nyinaung near Myawaddy on Monday afternoon. The KNLA is the armed wing of the Karen National Union (KNU).
“We shot at it with machine guns, sniper rifles and other [weapons]. Then it came down, killing [an infantry] division chief, the pilot and others,” said a source from Cobra Column, a KNLA-allied resistance force that was involved in the attack.
KNU spokesman Padoh Saw Kale Say confirmed to The Irrawaddy that the ethnic group shot down a junta chopper in Thingan Nyinaung. Brigadier General Aye Min Naung, the new commander of the 44th Light Infantry Division (LID), was being flown to Light Infantry Battalion 355 in the Thingan Nyinaung area in Myawaddy when Cobra Column shot down the helicopter.
Initial reports from local media said Brigadier General Aye Min Naung, the chief of the military’s 44th Division, and four other army officers were killed. Pro-junta media reported that two brigadier generals were killed and three others whose ranks were not mentioned were seriously injured in the plane crash.
Some two weeks ago, then-44th LID commander Brigadier General Win Naung Soe was transferred to the reserve force of the Myanmar military and appointed military attaché to Thailand after the junta-affiliated Karen State Border Guard Force told the regime that it did not want to fight ethnic Karen resistance forces, and no longer wanted to be a part of the Myanmar military.
Brig-Gen Aye Min Naung was appointed to fill the vacancy a week ago. Just as the former tactical commander based in Karen State’s Papun took up his new position, however, his chopper was shot down. Images circulated on social media showing a badly damaged helicopter lying in a grove of rubber trees surrounded by regime soldiers assessing the damage.
Anti-regime stronghold Karen State is home to several PDF groups that were trained by the KNLA, an armed wing of the Karen National Union. Since 2022, they have fought together against junta troops in Karen, which borders Thailand. In response, the junta has launched a campaign of airstrikes in the state and neighboring Bago Region that has taken a heavy toll on civilians.
The chopper downed in Karen State is the third aircraft the junta has lost to resistance attacks in January. On Jan. 16, a regime FTC 2000G fighter jet was shot down by another anti-regime ethnic armed group, the Kachin Independence Army, in northern Shan State.
On Jan. 3, troops from the same ethnic army shot down a military transport helicopter while it was flying from a regime airbase in Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin State, to a frontline base in Wai maw Township, killing all six people on board.
In November, ethnic resistance groups shot down a regime fighter jet in southern Myanmar’s Karenni (Kayah) State. A week later, they arrested junta pilot Major Khaing Thant Moe, one of two pilots who ejected from the aircraft before it crashed. So far, anti-regime resistance forces across the country have shot down three fighter jets and five choppers.