As the Wa militia and its Burmese allies pounded the SSA's Loi Tailaeng with rockets and mortars, kicking up one mushroom cloud after another, Shan snipers took out Wa soldiers one by one as they climbed up the hilltop in a mission that was somewhat suicidal. The fighting went on for more than a week and by any standard, successfully defending the Loi Taileang stronghold was no mean feat.
From a bird's-eye view, the bloody clash was just a part of the cut-throat politics of the notorious Golden Triangle, where stakeholders - opium warlords, the Thai Army and Burmese generals - play for keeps.
The UWSA, the world's largest drug-trafficking army, with eight leaders on the United States' most wanted list, "was merely living up to its role as a Burmese proxy. Attacking the pro-Thai SSA was just a way of getting the Burmese off their back", a Thai military intelligence officer said.
As long as anybody can remember, armed ethnic groups operating along the Thai-Burmese border have always functioned as a buffer between the two nagging neighbours. At the behest of the Thai or Burmese militaries, these ethnic armies do the dirty work, keeping the hands of their respective overlords clean.
Many groups turned to opium smuggling to finance their insurgency. Most have entered into ceasefire agreements with the Burmese military government in return for limited self-rule in so-called "special regions" where they grow opium and churn out methamphetamines.
There is one golden rule, however: if an outfit is pro-Rangoon - meaning they signed a ceasefire with the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) - they are automatically considered a security threat to Thailand. But if they are still fighting the Burmese junta, they are deemed friendly to Thailand.
But the traditional buffer role may be coming to an end, say Thai Army sources. A growing number of Thai security planners believe the benefits of improved ties with Burma outweigh the cost of maintaining a buffer. And so they are toying with the idea of ending the unspoken buffer-zone policy.
But retreating from the policy cannot be achieved overnight. If the plan goes through, it will have to be a slow retreat to ensure that the transition goes smoothly.
However, Thai military leaders say the end of the buffer zone will not mean an abandonment of the rebel armies and the thousands of refugees in camps that dotted the border. Depending on how events inside Burma evolve, the aim on the Thai side is to see the deactivation of the rebel armies such as the Karen National Union and the SSA. Naturally, their rank and file will be kept intact to ensure that, if need be, these armies can be reactivated and reassume their role as a buffer.
But it takes two to tango and the question over whether Burma will dance to the Thai Army's tune remains to be seen. The Thai Army is not calling for reciprocity from its Burmese counterparts but believes that as the strengthening of Thai-Burmese military relations continues, the function of the ethnic armies as a buffer will diminish accordingly.
For some time now, the Burmese government has been putting pressure on the UWSA, ordering them to retreat to the Sino-Burmese border - the so-called Special Region 2 - or face possible military consequences.
"It was the closest thing yet to a declaration of war against the UWSA," said the Thai Army officer. "But they could be bluffing. We have seen it in the past," he added.
Wa leaders had their meeting earlier this year and they will stand down along the Thai border in spite of the threat from Rangoon.
Thai and Chinese officials on the border think an all-out war between the UWSA and the SPDC could have grave consequences for Thailand and China, pointing to the likelihood of thousands of starving opium farmers flooding their borders.
The SPDC's squeeze has also been placed on the Wa's economic activities.
"Wa investment arms are declining rapidly as the Burmese government gives more and more concessions to Chinese companies," a Thai Army intelligence officer said. "The Burmese don't want to let the Wa get too strong, but at the same time they want their kickback, too." he added.
To make up for the loss, the UWSA has been stepping up production of methamphetamines and heroin. Their markets are not the slums of Bangkok but major cities throughout Europe and Asia, Thai narcotics and military officers say. The gateway to the world's market, said one Army officer, is Thailand's Eastern Seaboard.
It is hoped, however, that stronger Thai-Burmese relations will come at the expense of groups such as the UWSA.
But not all security officials are on the same sheet of music. Some of the field officers on the frontline on the border warn against reaching any premature conclusion. The absence of confrontation does not mean peace, they say. Mistrust between Thailand and Burma is still high. The two sides just haven't been showing it via the barrels of their guns.