India’s Tibetan Special Frontier Force sent to disputed China border


  • In late August, Indian and Chinese troops marched their disputed border into the Himalayas, another stir in the heat of tension.
  • The latest skirmish killed a soldier and wounded another man of India’s Special Frontier Force, a secret unit largely composed of ethnic Tibetans, many of whom opposed China’s control of their home territory Were.
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In late August, tensions between India and China erupted with another dispute between their troops high in the Himalayas.

Known as the Line of Actual Control along the disputed border around Pangong Tso Lake in Ladakh, reportedly more than 500 people were involved and lasted for about three hours.

India claimed that it was responding to a Chinese attack and a few days later an Indian special-operations battalion seized a Chinese operation in a covert operation.

Fighter jet ladakh of india

An Indian fighter jet on a mountain range in the joint capital of Ladakh on 2 September 2020.

MOHD ARHAAN ARCHER / AFP via Getty Image


The incident comes more than two months after 20 Indian soldiers and an unknown number of Chinese soldiers were killed in a similar skirmish in the same area.

No casualty figures have been released for the latest dispute, but one Indian commando was killed and another injured when they fled to the mine.

They were part of the Soldier Special Frontier Force (SFF), an Indian special-operations unit composed almost entirely of ethnic Tibetans.

The episode turns the secret entity into the spotlight. Now, nearly six decades after its founding, it is fulfilling how many members and other Tibetans feel in India, its main objective: to challenge China.

Establishment 22

Soldiers of India's Military Special Frontier Force

Listen to Indian soldiers, including members of the Special Frontier Force in maroon berths, the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh speaks in Leh on 11 June 2005.

PRAKASH SINGH / AFP via Getty Image


The SFF, whose units are known to Indian soldiers as the Development Battalion, was established during the 1962 border war between India and China. Losing that war, India realized that it needed dedicated mountain troops capable of conducting reconnaissance and strike at high altitudes.

The best candidates came from India’s large Tibetan refugee community, many of whom fled to India with their leader, the Dalai Lama, after a failed uprising in Tibet in 1959.

The refugees were taken to higher altitudes and motivated to fight the Chinese Communist forces. Some were elders of rebellion, and some were previously trained by the CIA in guerrilla warfare.

The unit was created by the Intelligence Bureau of India, the domestic intelligence agency before taking over by India’s Foreign Intelligence Agency Research and Analysis Wing.

It was originally called “Establishment 22” before the SFF was renamed in 1967. The CIA assisted with training and equipment until the early 1970s.

He was devoted to patrolling and fighting in the mountainous army and the heterogeneous climate and elevation of the Himalayas.

History of dedication and service

Indian Army Jawan Special Frontier Force

Indian soldiers paid their respects at the funeral of Indian special expeditionary soldier Naima Tenzin of Tibetan origin in Leh on 7 September 2020.

MOHD ARHAAN ARCHER / AFP via Getty Image


The SFF was not built at the time of fighting China in 1962, and although a central reason for its creation was to confront China, it was rarely in a position to do so – possibly because the Indians worried their members, Passion to counter China. May exacerbate stressful situations.

But the SFF has been in the fight several times. During the Indo-Pakistan War of 1971, 3,000 SFF commandos were toppled behind Pakistani lines in Bangladesh, occupying strong points and preventing Pakistani troops from crossing into Burma. Fifty SFF commandos were killed and 190 were injured.

He fought against Sikh rebels in Operation Blue Star and helped Indian control of the Siachen Glacier in 1984 and then fought in the Kargil War in 1999.

SFF commandos secretly assisted the CIA in tracking China’s nuclear weapons program and maintaining advanced surveillance equipment along the Sino-Indian border.

Gurdeep Singh Uban, the first commander of the SFF and a veteran of the Indian Army who fought alongside the SFF, recently described him as “fearless” and said he “never, never hesitates.”

A message to china

Indian Army Jawan Special Frontier Force

On September 7, 2020, Indian troops carried the coffin of Tenzin Nyima to Leh.

Reuters / Stringer


The SFF reports directly to the Cabinet Secretariat of India and is not part of the Indian Army. Estimates put the number of units at between 3,000 and 5,000 soldiers.

The Indian and Nepalese fighters known as the Gurkhas are now also in the SFF, but its identity is still distinctly Tibetan; The unit’s insignia, for example, is a Tibetan ice lion – found on the Tibetan flag.

Due to their origin and mission, the unit is largely kept secret. Indian officials asked Tenzin Nyima’s family that the 33-year-old commandos killed in the August clash did not talk about his service.

But recent events have given renewed attention to the unit. Its members took over the Chinese camp in late August, and videos emerged of Tibetans in India watching SFF troops going to the border as part of a mass buildup of both India and China forces.

Soldier funeral of India Special Frontier Force Tibet

Relatives at Nyama Tenzin’s funeral on September 7, 2020, in Leh.

MOHD ARHAAN ARCHER / AFP via Getty Image


The new focus has raised hopes that the SFF and the Tibetan community in India will receive overall recognition and attention. It has also aroused the sentiments of some Tibetans living in India who see an opportunity to face their arch enemy.

A SFF veteran recently told the South China Post, “Most of us join the Tibetan unit because it is the only chance to fight China.”

Those factors give their deployment more than military importance, melting a prolonged territorial dispute with much deeper ethnic and political tensions that the Chinese Communist Party has held home for decades.

A spokesman for the Foreign Ministry said earlier this month, “China’s position is very clear.” “We strongly oppose any country facilitating any form of separatist activities of ‘Tibet independence’ forces.”