China is raising new militia units comprising local Tibetan youth for high-altitude warfare near Eastern Ladakh, the site of the recent border tensions along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), as well as near its borders with Sikkim and Bhutan, intelligence intercepts have revealed.
The Hindu has learnt that the new units named Mimang Cheton are presently undergoing training, and are to be deployed mostly in upper Himalayan ranges, both in the eastern and western sectors of the India-China border.
It is learnt that two batches of the Mimang Cheton have completed training and have been deployed along various locations in the Chumbi valley, including Yadong, which borders Sikkim and Bhutan, Cheema, Rinchengang, PB Thang and Phari. A second batch is undergoing training at Phari, which is near Sikkim.
Available information indicates that the units are also being deployed at Rutog in Tibet, near the Pangong Tso (lake) in eastern Ladakh.
Recent reports appearing in China’s state media suggest the militia has been used to transport supplies to PLA troops stationed at Rutog. The new units will be used for high-altitude warfare as well for surveillance and for ensuring supplies to PLA troops. They are being trained for a variety of tasks, including using high-tech equipment such as drones on the one hand, as well as mules and horses to reach regions in the Himalayan range that can’t be accessed by modern means.
The units are being trained by the PLA, but personnel are yet to get uniforms or ranks. The deployment of the new Mimang Cheton units mirrors India’s own elite and decades-old Special Frontier Force consisting of persons of Tibetan origin. The secretive SFF came into the spotlight during last year’s clashes in Eastern Ladakh following its countermoves against the PLA plan to take control of strategic heights south of Pangong Tso.
Just like the SFF which relies on the knowledge of Tibetans, the Mimang Cheton also relies on the local knowledge of Tibetans as well as locals' resistance to High Altitude Sickness, a problem in alpine warfare.
A new feature of the units is that upon completion of training, they are being “blessed” by Buddhist monks in Tibet, which is being interpreted as a sign of greater socio-cultural outreach from the PLA to ethnic Tibetans. Sources noted that such interactions with Tibetan monks did not exist in the past, indicating a new approach by the PLA as it tries to induct more Tibetans into the new units.