While the People’s Defence Force (PDF) has often been the focus of insurgency in Myanmar’s civil war, the KNLA has been extremely under-reported. Since 1949, the people of Karen (a region in Myanmar) have become united in fighting the Burmese government. The KNLA is the military branch of the Karen National Union (KNU) and was estimated to have around 15,000 troops as of 2021.
Since the Burmese gained independence from the British in 1948, there have been very high tensions between their population and the Karen community. The Karen National Union and the KNLA fight to gain the right to self-determination. This is a shift in their objective, as the forces fought for outright independence in the past.
What makes the KNLA a truly unique insurgent group is its omnipresence of youth fighters and foreign volunteers. Numerous students — and even children — are known to fight for the KNLA. Foreign volunteers from Australia, the US, and France are also not uncommon. In fact, three French volunteers were killed between 1985 and 1990.