Special Frontier Force commandos on the Mount Everest

The SFF shares its date of birth with PM Nehru. More than 5,000 Tibetans were trained by the CIA and the Intelligence Bureau (IB). Naturally adapted to the extreme weather and geographical conditions of the Himalayas

New Delhi: The social media is abuzz about the covert Special Frontier Force (SFF) which outsmarted the PLA and managed to take control of strategic height on the southern bank of Pangong Tso in eastern Ladakh. 

There are reports that the SFF unit, also known as Vikas Battalion, played a major role in occupying the key height, thereby thwarting attempts by China to change the status quo at the Line of Actual Control (LAC). 

India’s leading strategic thinker Brahma Chellaney termed India’s success in taking control of the Chushul height a pre-emptive move in territory it perceives as its own so as to gain a tactical advantage and forestall PLA from seizing the unoccupied heights.

Considered as one of the most 'mysterious' armed units, the SFF is not part of the Indian Army and reports directly to the Prime Minister, through the Directorate General of Security in the Cabinet Secretariat.

Reports Directly To Prime Minister

After India suffered a humiliating defeat in the 1962 war with China, then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru decided to raise an all-Tibetan armed unit to stop the Chinese PLA’s regular intrusion into the Indian territory on the advice of Intelligence Bureau founder-director Bhola Nath Mullick and World War II veteran Biju Patnaik.

The SFF shares its date of birth with PM Nehru and is based in Chakrata, Uttarakhand. The force was first supervised directly by the Intelligence Bureau and later by the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW).

In the first stage, more than 5,000 Tibetans were trained by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the foreign intelligence service of the United States, India’s IB and Maj Gen Sujan Singh Uban, who was the first inspector-general of the SFF, for carrying out covert missions against China.

The CIA had already been training the Tibetan guerrillas to fight the Chinese PLA since the 1950s. 

From Operation Eagle To Operation Vijay

In ‘The CIA's Secret War in Tibet’, Kenneth Conboy and James Morrison write that the dreaded Khampa warriors received training on the island of Saipan and at Camp Hale in the Colorado Rockies. 

Before the Americans, the British Indian Army had recruited Tibetans as spies, intelligence agents, and covert militia as part of its effort to counter Russia in ‘The Great Game’ – a 19th century political and diplomatic confrontation between the two powers on exercising control on Central and South Asia. 

Naturally adapted to the extreme weather and geographical conditions of the Himalayas, the Tibetan guerrillas were tasked with conducting special operations beyond enemy lines apart from gathering intelligence. 

The SFF has participated in several operations - both covert and overt - such as Operation Eagle (securing Chittagong hills during the Bangladesh War of 1971), Operation Bluestar, Operation Meghdoot (establishing India’s control over the Siachen Glacier in 1984) and Operation Vijay (Kargil war in 1999).

The recent action along the LAC by the Tibetan warriors, extremely loyal to the Dalai Lama, has not only rattled China but shown that the bully can be defeated in its own old game.