Small Wars Journal

Insurgent Relief and Assistance Teams: The Free Burma Rangers Organize-Train-Equip-Sustain Model

Tue, 08/21/2018 - 8:48am

Insurgent Relief and Assistance Teams: The Free Burma Rangers Organize-Train-Equip-Sustain Model

Moe Gyo

Free Burma Rangers (FBR) is a Burma-based, multi-ethnic, conflict relief and assistance organization. It is supported by private individuals and organizations, and does not receive funding from, or is associated with, any foreign government. Ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) and community-based organizations (CBOs) inside Burma send men and women to FBR to be organized, trained, equipped, and sustained in teams to be deployed by their parent organizations into areas, under attack or in crisis, to provide emergency medical care, shelter, food, clothing, and human rights’ documentation.  Rangers are all volunteers who choose to work for the freedom for all people under oppression. They go towards the attack to help people and they will not run away if the people, they are helping, cannot escape. Men and women of many ethnic groups and religions in Burma are all part of FBR. In addition to Burma, FBR has conducted organize-train-equip team training in Sudan, and direct relief and assistance missions to Kurdistan, Iraq, and Syria by FBR’s headquarters’ international team from Burma. Thus, FBR occupies a unique position through providing relief and assistance to oppressed people in Burma, Sudan, Kurdistan, Iraq, and Syria until freedom and sustainable peace finally comes to them.

Aspects of FBR’s organized-train-equip-sustain model in Burma may prove especially useful to unconventional warfare in support of insurgents and is the primary focus of this article. However, FBR’s direct relief and assistance missions in the Middle East will also be briefly presented to reflect the full scope of its operations.

Insurgency Context

Armed conflicts began in Burma (aka Myanmar) after its independence in 1948 between the dominant Bamar ethnic group from central Burma and the non-Bamar people (“ethnic people”) from the peripheral hill and delta areas. These conflicts have been continuous through successive civilian, military, and quasi-military governments. The key issues are related to the ethnic peoples’ social, economic, and political aspirations for the self-autonomy and ethnic equality promised to them when they joined with the Bamars to establish the Union of Burma. Consequently, over the subsequent seventy years, many ethnic people formed political/armed groups to initially fight for independence and later for self-autonomy as manifested in some equitable form of political, economic, security, resource, administrative, territorial, and resource power sharing. At the present time, there are some twenty-one EAOs fighting against the Burma Government and Burma military. One or more of these EAOs are in ten of the fourteen administrative states/regions that comprise the country. Several early EAO soldiers served with US special operations units in Burma during World War II. Moreover, some of today’s US Army, Air Force, and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) special operations units can trace their lineage to US military operations in Burma during World War II:

  • Merrill’s Marauders – US Army 75th Ranger Regiment lineage
  • 1st Air Commando Group – US Air Force 1st Special Operations Wing lineage
  • OSS Detachment 101/Kachin Rangers – CIA Special Operations Group (Special Activities Center) lineage and also a predecessor to the US Army 1st Special Forces Group (A)
  • US components of the British V Force and Kachin Levies – CIA Special Operations Group (Special Activities Center) lineage and also a predecessor to the US Army 1st Special Forces Group (A)


Organizational Profile

Free Burma Rangers was founded in 1997 by David Eubank, a former US Army Ranger and Special Force major, and Eliya Samson, a Karen National Liberation Army soldier, in Burma. Its Vision is to free the oppressed and stand for human dignity, justice, and reconciliation. Free the Oppressed was taken from the Bible (Luke; 4:18) by the US Army Special Forces - De Oppresso Liber - and then through one of its co-founders, adopted by FBR. From its perspective in Burma, “Free the Oppressed” means that medical, relief, assistance, counseling, and other similar initiatives are utilized by FBR to help free the ethnic people from oppression by the Burma Government and Burma military. 

Moreover, Free the Oppressed means to free people from the oppression of sickness and injury, hunger, and mental, emotional, and spiritual distress. FBR takes the side of staying with people in need or under attack, and supporting their aspirations for self-determination, justice, dignity, and freedom. 

The FBR Creed is:

  • Love each other.
  • Unite and work for freedom, justice and peace.
  • Forgive and don’t hate each other.
  • Pray with faith, Act with courage, Never surrender.

The FBR Mission is to bring help, hope, and love to people of all faiths and ethnicities in conflict areas, shine a light on the actions of oppressors, stand with the oppressed, and support leaders and organizations committed to liberty, justice, and service.

FBR’s Objectives are to:

  • Organize, train, equip, and sustain indigenous relief and assistance teams in the field.
  • Provide immediate medical assistance, shelter, food, clothing, educational materials, and other relief and assistance in war zones, and improve logistics and medical evacuation in these conflict areas.
  • Develop information networks that document, report, and disseminate accounts of human rights’ violations and movements of hostile armed groups, and provide early warning systems.
  • Provide counseling for victims of human rights’ violations and support programs for children and families.
  • Inspire, train, and equip people psychologically, physically, relationally, and professionally to bring positive change through acts of care and service.

FBR’s Organizational Structure:

  • FBR Director: Sets the strategic direction and oversees the organization.
  • FBR Deputy Directors/Field Coordinators (2): Liaise between FBR’s headquarters and the ethnic leadership in Burma; assist with decisions concerning missions, trainings, specific team members, mission budgets, and other operational matters; communicate FBR’s vision and mission to all audiences, especially among the local leaders and people in all locations where FBR conducts missions; help lead Rangers on the headquarters’ international team on missions in Sudan, Iraq, Kurdistan, and Syria; and,  inspire respect and love in the people where they serve.
  • Area Coordinators: Under the Deputy Directors, liaise with their local area organizational leadership - these leaders and FBR’s headquarters’ teams are responsible for most field operations in Burma; help coordinate missions in their areas; decide mission budgets and produce mission operations’ orders and reports; and keep FBR’s headquarters informed about the situation in their areas and with their teams.
  • Chief of Staff: Manages the headquarters’ office; helps coordinate the headquarters’ staff on a day-to-day basis; conducts meetings; organizes office resources and events; and advises the Operations Officer about allocations of resources (especially human resources) between the field and FBR’s headquarters.


  • Finance: Manages FBR’s finances and donor relations, especially with the Free the Oppressed Foundation, a US-based 501(c) (3) tax-exempt foundation, which receives donations from individuals and organizations. No funding is received from foreign governments or international non-government organizations (INGOs).
  • Good Life Program: Focuses primarily upon children – provides preventative healthcare education; plans curriculum; trains and supplies counselors; organizes programs for children with songs and games; provides relief supplies including clothing, tarps, personal hygiene items, and school supplies; conducts education assessments at mission sites; teaches women about nutrition, sanitation, food preparation, and personal hygiene; and conducts a Junior Ranger Program where older students are taught about service and servant leadership as well as basic medical and wound care,  map, compass, Global Positioning System (GPS), land navigation, reporting, and video/digital camera use.
  • Information and Reporting: Manages incoming information from the teams, including photographs, video footage, and hard data; collates statistics for human rights’ violation documentation; creates reports for dissemination; gathers information provided to the media; plans reporting training curriculum for team reporters; and, receives, reviews, and modifies, as needed, mission operations’ orders from field teams.
  • Logistics: Supplies and supports missions and training through receiving supply orders from the field, and purchasing, packaging, and transporting these supplies as well as transporting people to and from training.
  • Medical: Manages patient care, medical training, and medicines/medical supplies; and collects, collates, and analyzes medical data from FBR’s area of operations to create reports for outside dissemination and improve the medical program.
  • Human Resources: Handles personnel matters in respect to FBR’s foreign and ethnic staff.
  • Operations: Directs field operations and works with FBR’s headquarters’ staff to plan and coordinate training; reviews and approves mission operations’ orders from EAO/CBO and headquarters’ teams; reviews FBR’s finances; assists with infrastructure development, planning, and execution; when needed or in the absence of the Director, acts as FBR’s  representative to other leaders, especially in the field;  and helps ensure all staff and other resources are in place to maintain FBR’s general operations.
  • Publications: Manages the creation of materials for dissemination, including printed matter and videos.
  • Training: Plans and oversees all non-medical training of FBR teams and headquarters’ staff, including course and curriculum development, selection of trainers, training-of-trainers, monitoring, and evaluation.


FBR operational areas are in ceasefire and conflict zones, and internally displaced persons’ (IDP) camps and hide sites in ten of the fourteen states/regions which constitute Burma. Its teams are made up of men and women, who are animists, Buddhists, Christians, and Muslims from the following groups in Burma:

  • Arakan
  • Chin
  • Kachin
  • Karen
  • Karenni
  • Lahu
  • Mon
  • Naga
  • Pa Oh
  • Rohingya
  • Shan
  • Ta’ang

Team members, trained by FBR, are sent by their parent organization with only three requirements:

  1. Love - Each person strives to be trained and conduct relief and assistance missions for their love of the people without compensation.
  2. Ability to read and write in at least one language - Literacy is required due to necessary operational responsibilities.
  3. Physical and moral courage - They must have the physical strength and endurance to be able to walk to crisis areas and the moral courage to be with people under attack and stand with them if they cannot flee.

They still belong to their parent organization where they may perform specific primary roles and responsibilities not directly related to relief and assistance. Their parent organization seconds them as members of FBR teams for missions to provide necessary relief and assistance in their area of operations. Team members come together one or more times during a year to conduct missions as directed by their parent organization whenever needs arise. They also assist FBR during training sessions as additional staff and instructors

At the end of 2017, FBR had 93 teams with each team consisting of four-five members. Of these teams, there were 90 teams under their parent organization - 55 full time teams/35 temporary teams:

  • 38 Karen teams - 35 full time teams and 3 temporary teams
  • 8 Arakan teams - 4 full time teams and 4 temporary teams
  • 8 Kachin teams - 2 full time teams and 6 temporary teams
  • 8 Ta’ang teams – 1 full time team and 7 temporary teams
  • 7 Karenni teams – 4 full time teams and 3 temporary teams
  • 7 Shan teams – 3 full time teams and 4 temporary teams
  • 4 Naga teams – 1 full time team and 3 temporary teams
  • 3 Mon teams – 3 temporary teams
  • 2 Chin teams - 2 full time teams
  • 2 Lahu teams – 1 full time team and 1 temporary team
  • 2 Pa Oh teams – 1 full time team and 1 temporary team
  • 1 Rohingya team – 1 fulltime team

FBR’s headquarters has 3 full time teams:

  • 2 Burma teams
  • 1 International team – Kurdistan, Iraq, and Syria missions

Full time teams are readily available to conduct missions and do so every year. Temporary teams may not conduct missions every year. However, they can be quickly activated should the need arises for additional relief and assistance in a particular situation.


Each year, up to 100 men and women, comprising four-five-member teams, from EAOs and CBOs in the ethnic areas, participate in the training programs, and then are equipped and deployed on relief and assistance missions.

Basic and advanced trainings are held annually from October – February primarily at the FBR’s Tau Wah Camp in an area controlled by the Karen National Liberation Army – an EAO – inside Karen State, Burma. A workshop is also conducted after basic training to provide the knowledge and skills necessary for teams to teach nutrition, sanitation, food preparation, and personal hygiene to women while at mission sites.

The sixteen-week training period begins with the first two weeks for the arrival of trainees and instructors, camp preparation, and transporting in necessary supplies and food. For the subsequent ten weeks, the trainees are taught the FBR curriculum with graduation at the end of this ten-week period. Finally for four more weeks, the new Rangers go on a mission with older experienced teams for practical training.

Basic instruction provides the trainees with a foundational knowledge while advanced instruction focuses more time for specific skill instruction to a smaller trainee body. Before graduating to relief and assistance missions, new Rangers are required to complete a three-day final exercise. This field training exercise is designed to test the teams in every area of their training. This exercise is conducted using an IDP scenario with multiple stations to which the trainees must navigate and complete the assigned tasks. This is conducted under pressure, over difficult terrain with multiple river crossings, and no food or sleep. Every team must successfully complete all tasks.

The Good Life Program School Tour is part of the mission that is the capstone of the basic Ranger training and brings the School Tour to five-fifteen sites during a one-two month period. The School Tour includes singing, moral encouragement, drama, crafts, games, and health care relevant to the local health situation (e.g., malaria, malnutrition, and sanitation). During the School Tour, the medics conduct a clinic for all who need medical care, while other team members construct a latrine or do other village development projects. Interviews are conducted to assess the educational, security, and other needs of the people. Money and school supplies are given to teachers; and each child, as well as many of the mothers, receives a gift, such as a shirt, warm hat, or pack that includes vitamins, toy, and article of clothing.

Upon graduation, each team member is supplied with personal equipment including: uniform, Load Carrying Equipment Set, boots, socks, backpack, hammock, blanket, tarp, and flashlight. Each team of four-five Rangers is further equipped with enough medicine and medical supplies to treat at least 500-1,000 IDPs, food for emergency relief and assistance, educational supplies, Good Life Program packs for children, clothing for IDPs, cash for travel, solar power system to operate electronic equipment, digital camera, video camera, GPS unit, compass, set of maps, reporting books, and ICOM hand-held 2-way radio.

Advanced training - Leadership Development and Relief Team Training - occurs at the same time and location as basic training. Advanced trainees are sometimes taught separately and other times combined with the basic training class for certain exercises. In this training, Rangers, who have already been through basic FBR training, return for a second year where they are expected to step into leadership roles with the new class of basic trainees. They will be given charge of certain activities or teams to conduct a specific activity or help teach certain topics. They remain members of their original FBR team. Through attending this advanced training, they have opportunity to practice and develop leadership skills in a setting with a large group in which much organization is required and feedback is available. They also are able to deepen their knowledge of specific skill sets. Also, long-term Rangers are often invited to advanced trainings that cover significant topics more in-depth.

Basic and advanced training include:

  • Basic Medical/Dental Care Training
  • Compass Reading, Land Navigation, and GPS Use
  • Ethnic Nationalities History, Issues, and Unity
  • General Information Collection and Reporting
  • Good Life Program Training and Counseling
  • Human Rights’ Violation Collection, Documentation, and Reporting
  • ICOM Radio Communications
  • Interviewing Skills
  • Law of War and Geneva Conventions
  • Leadership Principles and Ethnics
  • Map Reading and Sketching
  • Media
  • Mission Operations’ Order Writing
  • Mission Planning
  • Mission Security
  • Mule and Horse Handling and Packing
  • Physical Training/Hand-to-Hand Combatives
  • River Crossing Techniques and Poncho Raft Construction/Operations
  • Rope Bridge Building, Rappelling, and Rope Ascending
  • SALUTE Reporting
  • Solar Power and Battery Management
  • Swimming and Lifesaving
  • Video and Digital Photography

FBR also conducts a number of smaller ad hoc and specific advanced and refresher training, depending upon the need and availability of the organizations they work with, such as:

  • Advanced Good Life Program
  • Advanced Leadership, Ethnic Unity, and Relief Team Training
  • Advanced Videography
  • Drone Operation
  • Early Warning System for Villagers and IDPs
  • Landmine Mapping and Removal
  • Land Rights and Land Confiscation Documentation
  • Training-of-Trainers

Medical Operations

The Jungle School of Medicine-Kawthoolei (JSMK), established in 2011, conducts a fifteen-month training course for FBR medics and operates a jungle hospital and outpatient clinic. FBR’S medical program relies upon the availability of well-trained medics to administer quality medical care within Burma. Future medics apply from different ethnic areas to be selected to attend the JSMK program. Selection is based upon the current healthcare needs of each area. Maximum annual intake is about twenty-five trainees.

JSMK has twelve staff members who keep the school operational and perform the primary tasks of the clinic, hospital, classrooms, and general facilities. Foreign doctors provide medical and dental oversight, and external expertise to improve the training and patient care.

After their basic FBR training, admitted medics go on a two months’ relief and assistance mission to surrounding areas and observe how senior medics treat patients. Following the mission, they return to JSMK to commence the classroom and clinical portion of their training. This begins with two months of foundational lectures where they learn basic subjects, including mathematics, English, anatomy, and physiology, and infection control practices.

Once these foundational courses are completed, the trainees receive in-depth medical lectures and begin to see patients in the clinic. They spend eleven months of didactic classroom instruction and further clinical time working in the clinic and hospital under the supervision of the JSMK staff.  They are then ready to utilize their newly-obtained knowledge, experience, and skill sets in the field by joining the next cycle of FBR training missions.

After this mission, trainees are given one month of review lectures to study what they had learned during the past year before taking their final examination. By the end of this training, the medics are capable of diagnosing and managing the most important illnesses that they will encounter in the field. Also following graduation, a small number of medics may remain at the campus for further training.

JSMK provides a number of ancillary services including ultrasonography, X-rays, simple laboratory testing (hematocrit, urinalysis, pregnancy testing, blood typing and cross-matching, sedimentation rate and rapid diagnostic testing for malaria, HIV, and Hepatitis B) as well as microscopy for malaria, tuberculosis, white cell count, and Gram Stain. Though basic in nature, these services exceed those in other healthcare sites within the region.

Preventive care includes facility-wide provision of Vitamin A, deworming medicine, and iron supplements for iron-deficiency anemia.

JSMK’s vaccination program now covers seven local villages. It provides full vaccination coverage, Vitamin A, deworming medicine, and iron supplements for all children less than five years of age and operates a drop-in clinic during some of these village vaccination visits. Thirteen villages, within one day’s walk of JSMK, send patients to the hospital and clinic for health care.

As the reputation of JSMK grows, there has been an increase in patients coming from further away. Many of these patients present late-stage tumors, congenital heart disease, hydrocephalus, and gynecologic problems.

Children are admitted primarily for the management of pneumonia, diarrhea, and abscesses in the soft tissue, muscle, and bone. Adults are admitted for pregnancy-related issues, labor and delivery, upper abdominal pain, anemia, diarrhea, and severe urinary infections. Surgical emergencies, such as ectopic pregnancy, are also managed.

Outpatient visits for children more commonly manage common colds, pneumonia, diarrhea, impetigo, otitis media, typhus, typhoid fever, malaria, intestinal parasites, and malnutrition. Common adult outpatient diagnoses are obstetrical visits, common cold, peptic ulcers, skin complaints, back, muscle, and joint pain, anemia, eye disease, headaches, and bladder infections.

Occasionally, FBR medics encounter patients who require more care than can be offered. Since many FBR teams are equipped with digital cameras and satellite email capability, online consultations can be provided not only by full-time FBR doctors and nurses, but also by specialists from all over the world, many who have spent time in the field with FBR medics. When necessary, medics stabilize and transport patients to medical facilities, beyond the conflict zones, in adjacent countries where higher quality care is available.  In this regard, the FBR team identifies an appropriate clinic or hospital that can meet the patient’s needs, provide accommodations during their stay, and assist with appointments, transport, and interpretation/translation.

Ethnic Unity, Leadership, and Relief Program

FBR also seeks to promote a sense of ethnic unity. Burma is a highly-diverse country with 135 distinct ethnic identities, multiple language and religious differences, and decades’ long insurgency involving ethnic rights The Burma Government and Burma military have exploited the differences in counter-insurgency strategies to divide, weaken, and eliminate the EAOs.

In response and cooperation with local EAOs and CBOs, FBR organizes an Ethnic Unity, Leadership, and Relief Program for two months annually to further understanding and unity among young ethnic leaders, raise issues of concern, and develop leadership among the participants. The Program integrates seminars and training sessions covering ethnic unity and reconciliation, ethnic history, democracy, federalism, leadership, capacity building, humanitarian relief, medical assistance, reporting, and advocacy. It serves to raise issues of importance to the ethnic people of Burma and help them address these issues in a constructive manner

Relief and Assistance Operations

Frontline relief and assistance is the key component of the missions undertaken by FBR. FBR organizes, trains, equips, sustains, and otherwise empowers small teams with the knowledge, experience, skill sets, and tools necessary to perform relief and assistance missions under any circumstances. The result of this decentralized strategy leads to more targeted relief and assistance adjusted to the needs of individual populations in some of the most rural, remote, and conflict-affected areas of the countries in which FBR operates.

FBR operates under all difficult conditions: jungles of Burma, deserts of Sudan, and mountains of Kurdistan. Ranger teams fill a gap where relief and assistance are often most needed, yet unavailable. Thus, Ranger teams are trained in a variety of different transportation methods and can transport medicine, medical supplies, and other relief items by foot, car, mule, horse, or boat, depending on the mission, security, weather, and terrain. Relief supplies are packed in 15kg loads that have been waterproofed and can be easily carried by a person or loaded onto a pack animal.

FBR maintains a pack animal program that presently includes nineteen mules and ten horses. Pack mules can carry approximately three times what a man can carry and navigate over extremely rough terrain. Mule- and horse-handling and packing are part of regular FBR training.

Upon the directive of their parent organization, a team will plan their relief and assistance mission and prepare and send a mission operations’ order to FBR’s headquarters. With the approval and equipping by FBR’s headquarters, the team will conduct the relief and assistance mission in their respective area for one-three months depending upon the situation. Following the completion of their mission, the team sends a completed report of relevant relief, human rights’, medical, and other information to their respective parent organization which, in turn, forwards it to FBR’s headquarters. The team is then evaluated, retrained in needed areas, and available for further relief and assistance missions.

For an average month-long field mission, a team will carry one or more medical units. Each unit is comprised of medications (tablets, injections, and creams), supplies (dressings, malaria test kits, and IV solutions). One unit will treat approximately 500 people and is specifically matched to treat the most common health problems in the areas in which FBR medics work as well as FBR’s treatment guidelines and training. Teams often travel with two - three units on their mission. 

Should needs arise, FBR conducts large scale relief and assistance operations. In this situation, FBR will equip larger operations deploying multiple teams to maximize the amount of necessary relief and assistance.

A typical FBR Team is composed of the following members:

  • Team Leader: Selected as team leader by their team at the beginning of training; cross-trained in one or more of the other team member’s specialties; helps plan and coordinate missions and responsible for arranging mission security, and relaying information to their parent organization and FBR’s headquarters; leads the team at the mission site; and coordinates with local leaders and people.
  • Medic: Responsible for all medical aspects of the mission including immediate patient care, patient referral, and medical counseling
  • Photographer: Takes photographs of mission activity, events, locations, human rights’ violations, and Burma military activity.
  • Videographer: Takes video footage of mission activity, events, locations, human rights’ violations, and Burma military activity.
  • Good Life Program Counselor: Coordinates and conducts Good Life Program events for children and families; and assesses and assists with psychological, educational, human rights’, and preventative healthcare situation with counseling and instruction.

When a team arrives to the mission site, the team:

  • Treats patients including, but not limited to, those with war trauma - landmine or gunshot injuries, acute respiratory infection (ARI), malaria, diarrhea/dysentery, anemia, worm infestation, and skin infection;
  • Escorts fleeing people to internal displacement camps or to cross-border refugee locations;
  • Distributes food, school supplies, and clothing, particularly in situations where environmental conditions warrant it;
  • Interviews individuals for details of their situation and needs, Burma military activity, and human rights’ violations;
  • Takes photographs and video footage of the situation - documentation for human rights’ violations and of reconnaissance of Burma military positions and activity; and,
  • Organizes a Good Life Program for children and families.

Human rights and conflict monitoring are key components of a FBR mission. Utilizing its broad network throughout Burma, FBR has access to many areas where journalists or other conflict monitors may be unable to reach. In these areas, FBR teams obtain eye-witness testimony, and video and photographic evidence of human rights’ violations and Burma military activity. All FBR teams are equipped with video and digital cameras, reporting books, and communications’ devices. In this regard, FBR teams focus upon:

  • Military Camps, Movements, and Attacks
  • Military or State Violence
  • Communal Violence
  • Human Rights’ Violations
  • Labor Rights’ Violations
  • Land Confiscation
  • Environmental Destruction
  • Ceasefire Monitoring
  • Drug Production, Distribution, and Markets
  • Education, Health, and Welfare Status

FBR teams are trained to educate villagers about “Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC)” – a specific right in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. This Declaration essentially prohibits corporations or individuals from commencing any development project without the local villagers being fully informed about the project and granting their approval prior to its implement. Once they have given their consent, they can withdraw it at any stage. Furthermore, FPIC enables them to negotiate the conditions under which the project will be designed, implemented, monitored and evaluated. FBR’s teams teach village leaders how to negotiate with corporations and individuals in this respect.

FBR coordinates and administers an early warning system to help villagers/IDPs escape Burma military attacks. This includes training villagers/IDPs and distributing a radio kit that includes a two-way radio, solar panel, battery chargers, and rechargeable AA batteries to power the system.

FBR teams face many obstacles on their missions:

  • Burma military patrols
  • Landmines
  • Disease
  • Adverse weather
  • Difficult and dangerous terrain

FBR utilizes local guides and villagers to help mitigate these obstacles. The FBR headquarters’ teams employ drones for reconnaissance along routes to locate and/or avoid Burma military camps and patrols. Despite these measures, FBR has lost seventeen Rangers, over the past twenty years, from Burma military actions, landmines, disease, and accidents.

During 2017, FBR teams conducted sixty relief and assistance missions in Burma and treated over 30,000 people.

Sudan Organize-Train-Equip-Sustain Mission

FBR responded to an invitation during 2014 by the people of the Nuba Mountains in Sudan to evaluate whether the FBR organize-train-equip-sustain model could assist them. The people of the Nuba Mountains were under constant attack from the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) with little or no defense against SAF fighters and bombers. Over 100,000 Nubans had fled as refugees to South Sudan, Uganda, Kenya, and Ethiopia. Another 400,000 people became internally displaced. The IDPs were in desperate need of food, water, medicine, shelter, and school support for their children. Many were sick with little or no medicine or medical care available. SAF attacks made it very difficult to provide consistent relief and assistance, and for the IDPs to remain alive.

The Sudan mission was two-part. The first mission focused on refugees in the border areas of South Sudan. The second mission was into Sudan with the Sudan People’s Liberation Front (SPLF) - a mix of Christian, Muslim, and animist Nubans - into the Nuba Mountains.

FBR’s headquarters’ international team trained four Sudan Relief Teams (Aoun Sudan Alhur), went into combat with them, and provided relief and assistance to IDPs and others under attack. They were bombed daily by the SAF yet were still able to assist many people. The desert environment, even without the fighting, was a harsh place. Adding attacks from the SAF only increased the challenge of providing relief and assistance. This was the context of the new Sudan Relief Teams and the situation in which the FBR’s headquarters’ international team traveled with them.

The Sudan Relief Team training consisted of eighteen Nubans with six FBR instructors. Training subjects included:

  • First Aid (including ABC and CPR)
  • Suturing and IV
  • Dentistry - Tooth Care and Extraction
  • Human Rights’ Violation and Conflict Monitoring - Collection, Documentation, and Reporting
  • Good Life Program and Family Support
  • Leadership Principles
  • Map Reading and Sketching
  • Compass, Land Navigation, and GPS Use
  • Video and Digital Photography
  • Rappelling
  • Physical Training

Upon the completion of the training, the Sudan Relief Teams along with FBR’s headquarters’ international team traveled to the northern Nuba Mountains and provided relief and assistance to IDPs hiding in caves and documented the situation for later reporting. In this latter respect, the group spent four days at the front lines documenting and filming SAF attacks, and destruction of villages and homesteads as the SAF fired mortars, machineguns, rockets, and missiles at the villagers, SPLA, and the teams. FBR’s videographer worked with the Sudan Relief Teams to conduct reconnaissance of SAF positions, sketch maps, log GPS coordinates, and take photographs and video footage of SAF forces. Around the clock, two FBR senior medics directed treated patients and worked alongside the Sudan Relief Teams to treat sick and wounded IDPs and SPLA soldiers. The group treated over one hundred patients with stomach issues, malaria, ARI, skin diseases, gunshot and shrapnel wounds - some requiring minor surgery, dental problems, and delivered one baby in a hide site near the front lines.

FBR and the Sudan Relief Teams also conducted three outreach Good Life Program sessions with IDP families who were taught anatomy, health and hygiene classes, basic map reading, and video/digital camera use. The teams treated patients, held a mobile dental clinic at each site, and then interviewed many local leaders to document and later report the serious situation of the Nubans to the outside world.

FBR has not returned to Sudan as there is now a ceasefire in place in the Nuba Mountains and because of its involvement in the Middle East. FBR maintains contacts with the Nubans and will return should the situation warrant it.

Middle East Direct Relief and Assistance Missions

In the Middle East, the FBR Vision to “free the oppressed and stand for human dignity, justice, and reconciliation” means providing direct relief and assistance as well as standing and working with people and groups - Yazidi, Kurd, and Arab civilians as well their armies - under attack by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and other adversary armed groups. 

Unlike its organize-train-equip-sustain model in Burma, FBR utilized its headquarters’ international team to primarily provide direct relief and assistance with some basic medical, GPS, land navigation, videography, and reporting training.  FBR worked the Kurds initially in Iraq and later in Syria. Beginning in November 2016, FBR worked with the Iraqi Army in East Mosul.

The FBR headquarters’ international team traveled to the front lines where they assisted civilians who were fleeing ISIS or had returned to areas that had recently become liberated. FBR provided medical assistance and distributed food, water, personal hygiene items, shoes, clothes, and medical supplies.


In February 2015, FBR was invited to Kurdistan, Northern Iraq where the Yazidis and Kurds were under attack from ISIS. An FBR assessment team travel there and spoke with leaders of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and officers of the Kurdish Peshmerga. The team also went to the front lines of the fight against ISIS. Subsequent conversations with the Kurdish group led to the development of one-three-day training programs which were conducted by the FBR headquarters’ international team at various posts along the Bashiqa-area front. The Kurds were unable to spare soldiers for longer training periods due to the intensity of the fighting against ISIS. This training consisted of:

  • Emergency Medical Care
  • Basic Videography
  • Land Navigation

Furthermore during 2015, FBR conducted three relief missions to the Sinjar area of Kurdistan. Thousands of displaced Yazidis were living in tents and rough shelters on the mountain above Sinjar, a strategic city on the main route linking ISIS-held Mosul in Iraq with the ISIS capital of Raqqa in Syria.

The FBR team trained around 500 men and women in emergency medical care: ABC, MARCH, CPR, tourniquet use, and IV use; basic suture, movement of patients, bandaging, immobilization, and construction/use of litters. This was lifesaving knowledge since many areas were on the front lines and hours away from the nearest clinic/hospital. Medical supplies were also provided. At the front lines, FBR performed over 700 dental procedures for IDPs and Peshmerga soldiers. Furthermore, FBR conducted a series of Good Life Program activities for IDPs, operated a field clinic, and distributed clothes, baby formula, and medicine. FBR’s videographer documented the fighting, medical care, IDP situation, survivor interviews, and other related situations for later dissemination to the media.

FBR maintains a two-person area coordination team in Kurdistan to facilitate FBR direct relief and assistance missions and possible future longer-term training missions.


In 2016, FBR’s headquarters’ international team conducted a relief and assistance mission to Kobane, Syria after its Kurdistan mission to provide medical care and help orphans. Kobane was captured by ISIS and just recently liberated. Much of the city was in ruins.

The FBR team met with local leaders and traveled to the refugee camp on the edge of the city where FBR’s senior medic treated patients and drilled and filled teeth. The team also distributed shirts, jackets, and school supplies to orphans.

Later, some FBR team members crossed the Euphrates River to respond to a mass casualty situation where a group of civilians had become badly wounded by ISIS landmines/IEDs. At the site, FBR’s senior medic worked with a US Special Forces medic to treat casualties and otherwise keep the injured alive. Once the patients were stabilized and evacuated back to Kobane, the FBR team continued west to the front lines to assist at other casualty collection points.

In Syria, FBR works with the Kurds’ People Protection Units (YPG) and various Arab armed groups that are part of the Syrian Democratic Front.

FBR maintains a two-person area coordination team in Syria to facilitate FBR direct relief and assistance missions. 


Once ISIS was pushed out of Kurdistan and the fighting moved into Iraq proper, FBR worked with the Iraqi Army in Iraq. Since the Iraqi Army had combat medics, a training mission was not appropriate. Thus, FBR’s headquarters’ international team conducted relief and assistance missions to supplement medical care and provide other relief and assistance to civilians caught in the fighting.

During the Mosul Campaign from November 2016 - June 2017, FBR provided medical, relief, and assistance support to the Iraqi Army and IDPs. In the Mosul Campaign, FBR worked primarily with the 36th Brigade of the 9th Armored Division. However, from 31 May - 3 June 2017, FBR also helped the Iraqi Federal Police Emergency Response Division during an ISIS massacre of civilians in Mosul on the west bank of the river.

During the Mosul Campaign, FBR divided its headquarters’ international team into two groups: FBR medics and other FBR members accompanied the Iraqi Army to the front lines to provide immediate medical care and otherwise provide assistance while the other FBR group provided medical support at casualty collection points and conducted children and family programs.

FBR leadership, junior and senior medics, and videographers worked at the front lines on every assault, providing medical care and stabilization, and evacuating casualties back to an ambulance site. At that site, other FBR team members transported these casualties to an Iraqi Army casualty collection point. At the casualty collection point, other FBR members and foreign volunteer nurses and emergency medical technicians assisted Iraq Army medics and coordinated food and water distribution. The FBR team lived and moved with the Iraq Army. During the Mosul Campaign, the FBR team size was augment with additional members and fluctuated between 10 - 30 persons.

Four FBR team members were shot, (including its Director), one was killed, two FBR armored Humvees were rendered inoperable by ISIS gunfire, and two more were damaged by ISIS gunfire. FBR conducted several rescues of civilians in ISIS-controlled areas. With the help of the Iraqi Army and in two situations with US air support, FBR was able to rescue seventeen people directly and assisted over 3,000 people break free under direct fire and escape on their own.

The following is a summary of total people fed, treated, and assisted by FBR’s headquarters’ international team during the November 2016-June 2017 Mosul Campaign:

  • Over 70,000 people fed - 55,000 people fed at least once with over 15,000 fed for one month 
  • Over 2,500 sick and wounded civilians treated for a range of diseases from ARI, diarrhea, skin disease, and diabetes as well as gunshot, mortar, and blast wounds from improvised explosive devices (IEDs)/vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs)
  • Over 1,100 sick and wounded soldiers treated for gunshot, mortar, drone-dropped grenades, and IED/VBIED blast wounds
  • Over 125,000 people given water
  • Over 6,000 people given fuel, clothes, shoes, and blankets 


FBR’s main initiatives are its organize-train-equip-sustain program in Burma and direct relief and assistance missions to Kurdistan, Iraq, and Syria by its headquarters’ international team.


Insurgents have a symbiotic relationship with their popular support base. The people provide money, food/supplies, new recruits, and intelligence while the insurgents provide protection, advancement of social, economic, and political aims, and social services, e.g., education and health care. Oppressive regimes attempt to separate the insurgents from their popular support base, that is according to Mao Zedong, to dry up/divert the water (popular support base) in which the fish (insurgents) swim.

The FBR organize-train-equip model design is worthy of study by the unconventional warfare community for its potential applicability to support insurgences through strengthening the bonds and rapport between insurgents and their popular support base. From this perspective, unconventional warfare deployments in support of insurgents should focus upon organizing, training, equipping, and sustaining competent indigenous relief and assistance teams whose members know the local customs, speak the local languages, are aware of the local security situation, and are trusted by the insurgent’s popular support base.


About the Author(s)

Moe Gyo is a civil-military consultant working on the Thai-Burma border with various ethnic organizations from Burma.