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Tibetan Soldier’s Death in Pangong Lake Episode Brings India's Top-Secret Guerrilla Regiment to Fore

A coffin containing the body of Tenzin Nyima, a Tibetan official from India's Special Frontier Force, is pictured at his residence in Leh, September 1, 2020. (Reuters)

A coffin containing the body of Tenzin Nyima, a Tibetan official from India's Special Frontier Force, is pictured at his residence in Leh, September 1, 2020. (Reuters)

Nyima Tenzin was killed near the shores of the Pangong Tso in Ladakh as Indian and Chinese forces came close to direct confrontation.

A Tibetan member of an Indian special forces unit died near the site of a border flare-up with Chinese troops as the bleak mountain of Ladakh offered a rare glimpse into a little-known group of elite, high-altitude warriors.

The exact circumstances leading to the death of Special Frontier Force Company leader Nyima Tenzin are unknown - much like the mysterious regiment itself. The 53-year-old was killed near the shores of the Pangong Tso in the western Himalayas as Indian and Chinese forces came close to direct confrontation in the area over the weekend.

It's a force even the defence forces are reluctant to speak about, a force under the direct administrative control of the cabinet secretariat and the PMO, but fighting alongside the Army in the toughest terrains. With tensions rising along the Line of Actual Control in Eastern Ladakh, the Special Frontier Force or the SFF is once again in focus.

PLA's Western Theatre Command moved into the Galwan valley with its salami slicing move. The resistance and counter move from the Indian side have been led by the SFF. This is a force with nearly 60 years of history behind it. The top-secret guerrilla regiment, also known as Establishment 22 (read as two-two), was raised by the Nehru govt in 1962, during the war with China.

The unit, now based out of Chakrata in Uttarakhand, was tasked with engaging in covert operations behind enemy lines in the tough Himalayan mountainous terrain.

The SFF was drawn out of ethnic Tibetans who have an axe to grind against the Chinese. The first recruits were some of the guards who had fled Tibet along with the Dalai Lama.

Indian Intelligence officials took the help of the Tibetan guerrilla fighters of Chushi Gangdruk to raise this top secret unit comprising Tibetan refugees in India and the dreaded Khampa warriors.

Just a week after this force was founded, China declared ceasefire in the 1962 war. But their training continued. Guerrilla war veteran Major General Sujan Singh Uban was the first Inspector General of the force. Over the years, the SFF has repeatedly shown its mettle in various theatres of war.

They played a key role in stopping Pakistani forces at Chhittagong during the Bangladesh war of 1971, Operation Bluestar in 1984, in securing the Siachen glacier in 1984 and the Kargil war against Pakistan in 1999.

Though not officially a part of the Army, many officers, including the former Army Chief Dalbir Suhag have spent time with the force on deputation. Each commando of the unit is trained in mountain warfare, guerrilla warfare, clandestine operations and intelligence gathering among others.

Also known as Vikasis, the SFF jawans are trained to fight till the last man standing. One day, surely one day, we will teach the Chinese a lesson' says their regimental song.