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Public Statements

Burma Challenges

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, I rise today, as I do on many occasions, to bring attention to the numerous challenges that face the people of Burma. Of great concern to those advocating for democracy in Burma is promoting reconciliation among the diverse groups in the country. Like many ethnic groups in the country, the Kachin people of northern Burma have a distinct and longstanding heritage. Yet, they continue to be targeted by the ruling junta. Not only is their struggle against the oppressive junta of concern to those of us focused on reforms in Burma, but they also have an important historical connection to the United States, a connection that I would like to highlight today.

On September 13, 1945, Japanese soldiers surrendered to Allied forces in Burma. As many in this Chamber are no doubt aware, many Americans bravely fought in the China-Burma-India theater during World War II. The late Senator Ted Stevens, for example, flew the treacherous ``hump'' over the Himalayas, and many other Americans helped build the important Ledo supply road, linking China, Burma and India. In the Allied effort in this theater, the Kachin people deserve particular mention for the commitment, sacrifice and invaluable support they provided Allied forces to reclaim that country.

The situation in this region was bleak for Allied forces in 1942. The Burmese terrain, a combination of dense rain forest and high altitude, proved a formidable obstacle in itself. Of particular importance was building and maintaining the Allied supply lines into Kunming, China. This task was assigned to GEN Joseph Stilwell and was later described by George Marshall as ``one of the most difficult assignments'' given to any theater commander. As part of this endeavor, CPT Carl Eifler directed U.S. efforts against Japanese forces in Burma. Captain Eifler assembled an accomplished group of officers with a diverse set of skills, ranging from linguistics and medicine to piloting and explosives. Detachment 101 officially began on April 14, 1942, a mere 3 weeks before the Japanese Imperial Army would take Rangoon and, with it, effective control of the country.

As part of its mission, GEN Stillwell wanted Detachment 101 to learn to adapt to and thrive in Burma's thick rain forests. He would use his troops' familiarity with fighting in such terrain to harass the enemy with unconventional tactics, weakening its grip on strategic locations such as the Myitkyina Airbase in the Kachin State. The historian for U.S. Army Special Operations Command, Dr. C. H. Briscoe, credits part of Detachment 101's operational success to support from a group of Burmese in the ``Kachin Rangers'' unit and, in particular, their efforts in intelligence collection, as well as pilot rescue and sabotage missions. In the spring of 1945, due to its success, Detachment 101 expanded its Kachin forces to more than 10,000 troops.

The Kachin Rangers are credited with many effective and unconventional warfare tactics, some of which have subsequently been incorporated by the Army Special Forces Green Berets. In just a few years of combat, according to James R. Ward--a member of Detachment 101--the Kachin Rangers reportedly provided the U.S. 10th Air Force with 75 percent of its targets and the 164 Kachin radio teams in Burma provided some 85 percent of the intelligence received by General Stilwell's Northern Combat Area Command. In addition, these Kachin soldiers are credited with destroying an estimated 15,000 tons of Japanese supplies and killing or capturing more than 15,000 enemy troops. According to reports, the group also helped save the lives of as many as 425 downed Allied airmen during the war.

Ultimately, following the Japanese surrender of Burma, Detachment 101 was awarded the Presidential Distinguished Unit Citation by the Army Chief of Staff at the time, future President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Efforts by the Kachin people helped secure an Allied victory in Burma 66 years ago. Currently, the Kachin--like other ethnic minorities in Burma--deserve our recognition as allies in another noble cause: to secure freedom and reconciliation in a democratic Burma. We honor their bravery and commitment to freedom six decades ago as well as today.


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