TWELVE GURKHA RIFLES : THE UNIT THAT NEVER EXISTED
HOW THE CIA SECRETLY TRAINED THR FIRST BATCH OF SPECIAL FRONTIER FORCE OFFICERS AT THE AGRA’S PARACHUTE TRAINING SCHOOL
The CIA team was introduced to it’s guerilla students. By that time , the Chakrata project had been given an official name. A decade earlier Brigadier Uban (person who established SFF) had a posting in the command of the 22nd Mountain Regiment in Assam. Borrowing that number , he gave his Tibetan the ambiguous title of “Establishment 22”.
In review of the Est 22 , the Americans were immediately struck by the age of Tibetans. Although there was a sprinkling of younger recruits , nearly half were older than forty five ; some were even approaching sixty. Jamba Kalden , the chief political leaders was practically the older generation itching for a final swing at the Chinese , had used it’s seniority to edge out younger candidates during the recruitment drive in the refugees camps
BASIC TRAINING AT CHAKRATA
The Indians had also started a strict regimen of physical exercise , including exercise , extended marches across the nearby hills Chakrata. Because the weather varied widely snow blanketed the northern slopes , but the spring sun was starting to bake the south-special care was taken to avoid pneumonia. In addition to exercise the Indians had offered a sampling of tactical instructions instruction. But most of it , the CIA team found , reflected a conventional mind set.
This combination-strict exercise and a crash course in guerilla tactics continued through the first week of their training. At that point , classes were put on temporary hold in order to initiate airborne training. Plans called for nearly all members of Est 22 to be qualified as paratroopers. This made tactical sense: if the Tibetans were to operate behind Chinese lines , the logical means of infiltrating the to the other side of Himalayas would be by parachute.
When told of the news , the Tibetans were extremely enthusiastic about the prospect of jumping. There was a major problem , however. Establishment 22 remained a secret not only from the general Indian public but also from the bulk of Indian Military. The only airborne facilities in Indian were at Agra , where the CIA’s T.J Thompson (CIA’s instructor) was discreetly training a dozen Tibetan riggers. Because the Agra school ran jump for the Indian Army’s airborne brigade, Thompson had been forced to keep twelve well concealed. But doing the same for thousand of Tibetans would be impossible ; unless careful steps were taken, the project could be exposed
(TJ Thompson with 2 Tibetan student rigger at PTS Agra , summer of 1963. In the background is a C-47 Dakota and two C-119 Flying Box Car)
CREATION OF TWELVE GURKHA RIFLES
Part of the CIA’s dilemma was solved by the season. The weather in the Indian lowlands during May was starting to get oppressively hot, making the dusty Agra drop less than popular with Airborne brigade. Most of the Tibetans jumps were intentionally scheduled around noon-the least popular time slot because the sun was directly overhead. The intelligence bureau also arranged for the Tibetans to use crude barracks in a distance corner of the air Base further reducing the chance of an encounter with the inquisitive paratroopers.
As an added precaution , a member of Brigadier Uban’s staff went to an insignia shop and placed an order for the cap badges. Each badge featured crossed khukri knife blades with the number 12 above.
(Insignia used by Establishment 22 officers during their stay at PTS Agra)
The reason : after independence from the British , The Indian army inherited seven regiments of the famed Gurkha recruits from the neighboring Nepal. Along with four more regiments that transferred to the British army , the regiments were numbered sequentially with the last being the 11th Gurkha Rifles. On the assumption that most lowland Indians would be unable to differentiate between the Asian features of Gurkha Regiments and those of a Tibetan, Establishment 22 was given fictitious cover designation “12th Gurkha Rifles” for the duration of its say in PTS Agra