Indian Army

Tibetan ‘sons of snow’, ‘ready to fight China, defend India’

The death of Tibetan soldier Nyima Tenzin, who was killed on the night of August 29-30 in the Pangong Tso area when he stepped on a landmine during the ongoing India-China standoff, has drawn attention to a band of Tibetan soldiers who fight shoulder-to-shoulder with the Indian Army.

Perhaps Tenzin’s was the first ever public funeral of a Tibetan soldier or a “Son of snow” who are part of the once hush-hush Special Frontier Force (SFF) units that are now operationally deployed in Eastern Ladakh against the Chinese PLA troops on the snowy Himalayan heights.

The late Defence Minister George Fernandes greeting SFF commandos during the Kargil War in 1999.

Tibetan SFF veterans Lobsang Lungtok, Tamding Tamding and Dawa Tsering, who now lead the lives of civilians at the oldest Tibetan Settlement at Bylakuppe in Periyapatna taluk, Karnataka, all cherish their youthful years in army uniform. Even today, they yearn to fight the Chinese PLA soldiers and defend Indian territory.

Former SFF commando Tamding Tamding, after a parachute landing.

The SFF was established with American military assistance during the last days of the India-China war in October-November 1962, from among the 80,000 Tibetan refugees who had fled to India in 1959 along with their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, to escape Chinese oppression in Tibet. The legendary Khampa guerrillas based in Nepal, who initially fought an irregular war against the Chinese soldiers in the late 1950s, formed the nucleus of the SFF. The Khampas are a Tibetan martial race and taller than the average Tibetan. After China lobbied with Nepal, the Khampas had to exit Nepal, but they began to launch covert commando raids on Chinese positions from Indian territory.

In the 1960s, the SFF headquarters, known as ‘Establishment 22’, had the famed US Green Beret (commando) instructors. The US Central Intelligence Agency and India’s Intelligence Bureau together created the SFF. It was a case of “Tibetan bravery and American weaponry” till the 1970s.

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