Few KM North of Gonggar PLAAF Base
Qinghai–Tibet railway is one of the biggest marvels of human engineering. This railway was the first one connecting Chinese occupied Tibet to mainland China. Constructed at the cost of nearly $ 4 billion, it traverses one of the most inhospitable and harsh terrains. Total length of track exceeds 2000 Km and highest railway station in world is on this line itself (5000m +). A significant portion of the railway is constructed over semi-permanent perma-frost which poses it’s own challenges during warm conditions. Special measures were taken to solve the problem, which included passive cooling, deep concrete supports and sun shades.
Apart from the engineering challenges faced during the construction, the extreme altitude and cold weather poses serious problems to passengers and daily operations. It’s not possible to operate normal trains at this altitude. So China had to import special trains with built in oxygen supply for passengers and ultra high grade environment control. Even the diesel locomotives are custom built.
Quite a few people thought all of this effort as a waste of money and effort. But the Chinese government thought different and poured all the resources it could spare. The strategic advantages brought about by this line vindicated all the stubbornness displayed by Chinese. Amount of cargo being transported in and out of Tibet increased by nearly 300%. But the most obvious advantage was the strengthening of Chinese stranglehold over Tibet. This railway line provided China with unprecedented ability to deploy forces over most of Tibet much faster and cheaper. Thus they had a significant advantage over India which left most of it’s border routes undeveloped in an extremely counter-productive defensive strategy.
At the moment this fact was quite obvious to the three man special forces operative team as they lay waiting just a few meters away from the famous track. Intelligence reports had indicated that numerous trains loaded with men and weapons were on their way to Tibet from mainland China as PLA rushed to quell the rebellions in Tibet and Xinjiang, while at the same time maintaining enough forces on standby to deter India. The railway track was proving to be invaluable in these conditions. Many of the PLA bases were constructed close to railway lines to take maximum advantage. Although the forces were stretched thin, steady arrival of reinforcements was proving to be life saver for Chinese commanders. It allowed them to keep existing forces directed towards India on station, while still maintaining overwhelming superiority over spirited but less capable rebels.
As of now, mission of the spec-ops team was to cripple this vital cog in Chinese occupation of Tibet and then some more.
The sophisticated Motorola radio handset cackled in to life in hands of the team leader, “ Leopard Alpha, This is Leopard Charlie. We confirm arrival of target in 15 minutes at ambush point 1.”
“Roger that Leopard Charlie.” Leader of Alpha team had to shout in to the radio to make himself heard as icy winds nearly drowned out his voice at normal volume. If he hadn’t spent two weeks acclimatizing to the altitude he’d have serious trouble doing even that. Trekking such long distances carrying heavy loads as he was was simply out of question. Inhaling the cold air deeply, he ordered his companions to get ready. On the leader’s signal, the two men broke away and took positions at a few meters distance from each other.
Trap was almost ready, all they had to do now was to wait for the prey.
Their target, a cargo train of nearly 40 trailers carrying an arsenal worth of Chinese armoured personnel carriers and tanks was within their sights in a few minutes. It’s specially designed diesel engine pulled the load quite effortlessly as it chugged on. Leopard teams waited with bated breaths as the moment of reckoning came closer. The operatives checked their weapons and adjusted the sights one last time. Right on the estimated time, the train reached it’s intended point and it’s engine shook as bunch of small explosives went off under it’s wheels. A small group of soldiers and engineers on-board looked here and there bewildered as wheels of the engine broke away amidst showers of sparks and fire. Their emotion of surprise soon turned to horror as 4 rocket propelled grenades slammed in to the engine and the single passenger compartment behind it from different directions. The soldiers who survived the initial assault jumped out and started to run only to be mowed down by murderous small arms fire. The attackers had ample time to plan the ambush and not a single person on the train was left alive. They emerged from their cover still firing on anything moving and started converging on ill-fated train.
Within next few moments a small army of armed men had collected around the train, working feverishly unstrapping the APCs and tanks. They lacked proper equipment to do the job and thus the going was slow. Leopard Alpha leader noted the fact and shouted instructions in broken Tibetan to hurry up the process. The result was a significantly rougher handling of the vehicles as they left the trailer to land at ground, but the process picked up speed. Time was of essence . It was only a matter of time before Chinese noted the missing train and sent somebody to investigate. Whoever did this better be a long distance away from the site when Chinese came with reinforcements.
It took nearly 20 minutes for men working at breakneck speeds to unload required vehicles and fill their fuel tanks. Once finished, a large number of men got in to the vehicles and started to drive them away towards the road nearby. One Tibetan man came jogging towards Leopard Alpha and smiled. “Thanks for the help. Will see you soon.”
The leader saluted and smiled back, “ Take care Wangdak. There is still a lot of work to be done.”
Wangdak grinned and saluted back. Both men shook hands and he turned to climb in to one of the two Chinese Type-96 tanks that had been unloaded from train. Leopard team went on to it’s work immediately. Working separately, they attached more explosives to the stricken train and then melted away in to the terrain. A few minutes after their departure, a series of explosions shook the area as the explosives did their work, destroying the train along with it’s cargo and damaging a large portion of railway track along with it. Leopards felt rather than saw the explosions, but didn’t turn to see the result of their work. They still had more missions to complete. One of them was another sabotage mission that’ll put the Qinghai–Tibet railway out of commission for months by destruction of one of numerous bridges on the line.
The convoy of stolen vehicles soon came across a road that led to their destination, Lhasa-Gonggar Forward Air Base, nearly 50 Km south-west of Lhasa. Owing to highly tense conditions, lots of PLA convoys were traveling from one location to another and they moved fast without raising any suspicion. Just another convoy on it’s way to deployment somewhere.
In spite of that, every man in convoy was nervous. It was only a matter of time before news of the attack and theft of vehicles was reported and an alert sounded all over the region for the rebels. They needed to act really fast if they wanted to have any reasonable chance of their mission succeeding. They soon reached Galashan tunnel, one of the longest tunnels in Asia at nearly 2.4 Km. Beyond it a 3.8km long bridge lead to a small town named Jiazhulinzhen. Lhasa-Gonggar base was just on it’s outskirts. Normally a civilian airport which served tourists and Tibet residents, it was a hotbed of activity. But at that time, a significant part of the air traffic was military. Numerous Chinese military transport planes were present on the base, loading and unloading men and supplies. According to rumours a detachment of J10s was scheduled to land at the base within next 12 hours to fly CAP missions. But as with most rumours, it was not confirmed yet. But the security seemed to be beefed up and every vehicle was undergoing stringent security checks.
The convoy lead by rumbled to a halt just outside the main gate of base. Two security guards with confused expressions on their faces walked hesitatingly towards the slightly unusual visitors. Four rebels in PLA uniforms with their fingers ready on triggers of their AK56s jumped out from trailing Type-92 APCs and flanked Wangdak’s tank as he opened it’s hatch. Chinese guards halted ad saluted on seeing the leading officer. Although they had no information of arrival of any convoy, they knew better than to challenge a PLA Colonel. Wangdak’s confident orders in flawless Mandarin removed any hesitation that they had in their minds. Clearing the first security hurdle, the convoy drove in to the airbase and spread out, taking up strategic positions around it’s premises.
For Chinese, first indication of the fact that something was wrong came when nearly a dozen armed men walked in to the air traffic control building and tied up all the guards after disarming them. Once finished, four men stayed back in the control room with loaded guns pointed at the profusely sweating traffic controllers who were ordered to refuse all requests for landings and take offs. All the passengers were shunted into the airport lobby. This was not hard to do as there were little passengers owing to escalating tensions with India. Their number were further reduced with military aircraft forming bulk of traffic
In the meanwhile both Type99 tanks followed by 2 APCs drove up to the military hangar area. A small guard detail was cut down in a hail of bullets before it had any chance to react. A small group of armed rebels then jumped out of APCs and
swarmed in to the area, searching for weapons and supplies and killing anybody who resisted. They found a IL76 and two Y8 transport planes, both of which were promptly set on fire.
Another group of APCs drove around the premises finding and destroying any anti-air defense asset they could find. The maps they had were not very reliable but their job was made easy as encountered very little resistance. The men were about to finish the last of the KS-1A SAM launchers when warning of arrival of Chinese reinforcements came in.
They were coming in from a small Chinese military base few Km south of Lhasa. Tibetan spotters positioned near Galashan tunnel noticed their arrival and went to work. They waited as first of the vehicles crossed the tunnel and reached the bridge. A soon as it was there, the bridge was rocked by a massive explosion which blew apart a large portion cutting off all the reinforcements. One truck and an APC were destroyed as the powerful explosion tossed them in to cold river water below. Another explosion inside the tunnel a few minutes later destroyed any remaining chance of retaking the base from rebels anytime soon.
But the two Mi-17s armed with machine guns and rocket pods which followed the convoy minutes later had no need of any road. Unfortunately for Chinese. they too proved to be of little use. Two shoulder fired SAMs took care of both, as the first chopper crashed even before it had spotted any rebel. Seeing the fiery fate of it’s companion, second immediately turned tail and raced back.
Wangdak ordered his men to gather up and load all the military supplies that could be carried away and move out. Their work there was done. His men followed the orders with clockwork precision and started moving out within minutes. Their departure was marked by a series of explosions which first blew up the ATC building followed by fuel storage facility. Last of the explosions made dozens of crates on the runway putting the air base out of operational readiness for days at least.
Whole thing happened in front of a few hundred civilians, many of them foreigners all of them with phones and cameras. Only a miracle could censor news of such an event.