Chinese troops participate in a winter drill in Tibet. Photo: Xinhua
Chinese troops participate in a winter drill in Tibet. Photo: Xinhua

An unspecified number of People’s Liberation Army special forces, including helicopter pilots, descended on Tibet last week for exercises that included behind-enemy-lines infiltrations and reconnaissance missions at an elevation of 4,000 meters, the PLA Daily revealed.

“Pilots and special forces rappelled down to the ground from helicopters and conducted the mission together,” said the PLA mouthpiece, in a brief report devoid of further details.

But it was the nationalist military commentator Song Zhongping who blurted out in the Global Times that the drills were all about staving off India: the PLA’s OPFOR (opposing force) soldiers reportedly simulated an Indian sortie along the Tibetan border.

A separate report aired by the state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) on Sunday said the PLA conducted counterterrorist training “under extreme weather conditions, traversing caves, cliffs and jungles in Tibet to hunt down ‘invaders, terrorists and fugitives’” as part of a new deployment to attend to China’s ability to safeguard its border.

The PLA’s elite commandos chose to climb over a cliff to outflank targets instead of a direct raid during a mock attack against an adversary’s stronghold inside a huge caves, according to CCTV.

For days the PLA’s elite squadrons plied Tibet’s meandering roads along the mountainous border area without any replenishment of food or ammunition to test their survivability in a protracted combat, the news program said.

Although the size of the PLA’s Special Operations Forces is classified, some estimates put the active headcount between 7,000 and 14,000 troops, and the force also has a number of mountain motorized infantry brigades stationed in Tibet.

Beijing set up in June an unmanned automatic weather-observation station in Tibet near the border with India to provide meteorological support for national defense, specifically aircraft takeoffs and landings and missile launches.

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