The Karen Defense Department was formed in 1956 and comprises of the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), the Karen National Defense Organisation (KNDO), and also militia, and home guards.
At the time of Burma’s independence from the British in 1948, there was considerable tension between the Karen community and the Burmese majority. The Karen National Defense Organisation (KNDO) was formed by the KNU in 1947 to defend Karen communities and interests. Most of the KNDO soldiers had previously served in the forces of British Burma. At present, the KNDO consists of headquarters and seven battalions.
The KNLA has seven brigades and three headquarters battalions. Brigades are comprised of up to five battalions, each of which has four companies, each of which in turn has three platoons. The KNLA also has 3 main branches, General Staff Office, Adjutant General Office, and Quartermaster Office.
The mission of the KNLA from its foundation through to the present day is solely as a self-defense force for the Karen people and the organisation, since without such a defense force the Karen would likely be eradicated. The KNLA has no aspirations other than to safeguard and guarantee the safety of the Karen people and to support the organisation in their stand for political dialogue.
Karen self-defense requirements include countering Burma Army aggression; to ban narcotics; to provide village security; and to provide security for humanitarian relief missions.