The role of Special Frontier Force has come to light in the recent operation on the south bank of Pangong Tso. In the operation, Special Frontier Force captured certain heights which China was eyeing for their strategic value. China was understandably upset and has urged Bharat to pull back forces. The action by Bharat was a potent counter to the ‘salami slicing’ tactics that China has been using on the border since many years. In the action, one soldier of 7 Vikas, Company Leader Nyima Tenzin attained veergati.
However, not many people know about the Special Frontier Force, which played an important role in the recent operation. The force raised during the Bharat-China war of 1962 is a shrouded in mystery. It has participated in all the wars Bharat has fought since its foundation, but the exact nature of its involvement is classified.
Raising the force
It was raised in the aftermath of the Bharat-China war of 1962. The original purpose was to conduct covert operations behind Chinese lines in the event of another Bharat China War. As there was no specialized agency for foreign intelligence at that time, it worked initially under the Intelligence Bureau.
It was trained jointly by IB and Central Intelligence Agency of USA. USA was wary of Chinese intentions during the 1960s and helped recruit and train the force. In 1968, Research and Analysis Wing was established and the control of force came under RAW. In its initial days, the force was also called Establishment 22 due to its first Inspector General, Maj. Gen. Sujan Singh Uban, who had commanded the 22nd Mountain Division in Europe during World War II.
The force is composed mostly of Tibetans from amongst the refugees, who live in Bharat. Due to a large Tibetan population in Dehradun, its headquarter was built in Chakarata, which is near Dehradun. Initially it recruited from Chushi Gangdruk militia, that the Tibetans had formed in 1950s.
The militia had surrendered to Bharatiya authorities when they came to Bharat after Chinese takeover of Tibet. As of now, SFF troops are highly trained in mountain and jungle warfare and also have capacity to airlift its troops. SFF reports to R&AW and through its secretary to Cabinet Secretariat. The battalions of SFF are named as “Vikas” and its men are called Vikasi.
Although its operations are highly classified, SFF has been known to operate in China in 1960s. They worked with CIA to place sensors in the Himalayas that could detect Chinese nuclear tests. However, one such nuclear powered sensor, placed on Nanda Devi, was lost in 1960s. In the 1970s CIA stopped its association due to two reasons. Firstly, USA had spy satellites in place and services of SFF were not required to collect intelligence. Secondly, relations between USA and China improved and it recognized People’s Republic of China.
SFF continued to play its role in wars fought by Bharat. In Bangladesh war, it conducted operations in Chittagong Hill tracts area and also trained Mukti Vahini. It was instrumental in many covert operations including destruction of Kaptai Dam and many bridges, which severely limited the mobility of Pakistani army. SFF played a role in Kargil war, but the details are not public.
For the Tibetans in SFF, China is their biggest enemy. Their song also expresses their desire to take back their land from China. Indeed, SFF was prohibited from being deployed to within 10 km of the Indo-Chinese border in 1975. The reason was several incidents, in which SFF was found to be conducting unsanctioned cross-border raids and intelligence operations within China.
In the recent operation, SFF is rumored to have inflicted a humiliating tactical defeat on China. The camera and other equipment of Chinese could not learn their movements until the last minute. It is learnt that many Chinese troops were injured and some were even captured by SFF. The same were rumored to be returned shortly later. This was widely celebrated by Tibetan online community, even as grief for the fallen soldier was also expressed.
The recapture of vitally strategic territory by SFF in Pangong Tso is hopefully the first step in taking Aksai Chin back from China. As an elite commando force, the Special Frontier Force is well suited for a limited war in that mountain area and will certainly play a very important role in coming days.
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