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‘Establishment 22’: India’s Tibetan battalion to the fore after Pangong Tso episode

The SFF comes under the purview of the Cabinet Secretariat. It is headed by an Inspector General, who is an Army officer of the rank of Major General.

Published: 03rd September 2020 06:04 AM  |   Last Updated: 03rd September 2020 09:13 AM   |  A+A-

An Indian army convoy moves on the Srinagar-Ladakh highway at Gagangeer, north-east of Srinagar.

An Indian army convoy moves on the Srinagar-Ladakh highway at Gagangeer, north-east of Srinagar. (Photo | AP)

Express News Service

BENGALURU: The ‘Vikas Battalion’, or the ‘Special Frontier Force (SSF),’ also known as ‘Establishment 22’ (two-two in military parlance), which has played a vital role in capturing Reqin and taking control of the heights of south of Pangong Tso, largely comprises Tibetans and some Gorkhas now.

Its deployment in the current standoff with China is “a political statement (by India) because it is the Tibetans versus the People’s Liberation Army (PLA),” according to Lt General P M Bali (retired).

The SFF has been used for selective and highly-sensitive military operations such as ‘Operation Eagle’ (Chittagong Hills in the 1971 Indo-Pak war), ‘Operation Bluestar’ (Golden Temple in 1984) ‘Operation Meghdoot’ (Siachen Glacier in 1984) and ‘Operation Vijay’ (Kargil, 1999).  

“This was an audacious move by the Army, as neither of these areas were under Indian control since we lost the 1962 war to China,” Lt General Bali (retd) added.  

‘SFF’s main task is covert operations’

The SFF comes under the purview of the Cabinet Secretariat. It is headed by an Inspector General, who is an Army officer of the rank of Major General.

It was raised on November 14, 1962, and the first cadres were drawn from the Khampas (people of Kham region in Tibet, which is under Chinese occupation), who were the original bodyguards of the Dalai Lama.

The primary function of the SFF was to conduct covert operations behind the Chinese lines in the event of another India-China war. 

On the importance of the current operation, Lt Gen Bali (retd) said that in 2017, the “Indian Army had moved pre-emptively into Doklam to stop the Chinese ingression into Bhutan. Deploying troops on these ridges is of great significance as it is a quid pro quo (QPQ) action and gives us a bargaining position. These heights provide the Indian Army with direct observation into Chinese camps and areas in Aksai Chin,” he said. 

 Lt Gen Bali (retd) had commanded the Sikkim-based 33 Corps during the 2017 Doklam border standoff between India and China and is aware of the nuances of the PLA.  On whether this will this lead to further military skirmishes between the Indian Army and the PLA, the retired officer said that it is “advantage India at the moment. There may be a lot of statements and further talks between the two armies and diplomats, but escalation does not suit anyone, specially the Chinese,” he noted.

Meanwhile, the Army formations deployed in the Central and Eastern sectors are maintaining a high level of alertness and are “mentally and physically well prepared for any further skirmishes along the LAC. Necessary steps to ensure adequate equipment and clothing for the extreme winters are in place,” Lt General Bali (retd) said.


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