Months after the brief but bloody India-China border war of 1962, American intelligence were worried about the possibility of further strikes by Chinese troops through Tibet, Myanmar and even Nepal and Bhutan.
After a string of skirmishes along the disputed frontier led to a spike in tensions, Chinese troops mounted an offensive in October 1962 and advanced into Ladakh and the North East Frontier Agency (NEFA, now the state of Arunachal Pradesh). A month later, China announced a unilateral truce and withdrew its troops.
By January 1963, wary US intelligence officials began studying the possibility of China “giving the Indians another black eye”, according to declassified documents recently posted on the Central Intelligence Agency’s website.
The CIA, Defense Intelligence Agency and United States Intelligence Board conducted several assessments over a period of months, including possible attacks through neighbouring countries. They estimated the Chinese could mobilise a little more than 120,000 troops for such attacks and also assessed the air threat to India.
A DIA document, titled “The Chinese Communist ground threat to India”, drawn up less than six months after the 1962 war, concluded China had the capability to carry out attacks in Ladakh, through border passes between Ladakh and Nepal, across eastern Bhutan and NEFA into Assam.
“It is estimated that the Chinese could support indefinitely operations in Ladakh, Nepal, Bhutan and eastern NEFA,” the document stated.
Among the military objectives of such attacks would be extending Chinese control to the town of Leh, seizing the territorial claim north of Joshimath, the “eventual occupation” of Nepal to forestall Indian intervention and the “effective occupation” of NEFA and the part of Assam north of the Brahmaputra river. The occupation of Assam, the DIA estimated, would require a “strong and permanent lodgement” in the Guwahati area.
Both the CIA and DIA concluded that Chinese advances would be impeded by Beijing’s lack of logistics capabilities and the weather.
A May 1963 top secret memorandum from the CIA and USIB concluded the “government of Burma (now Myanmar) would not resist the movement of Chinese troops” for a possible attack on India and would even “acquiesce” in the use of Burmese transportation facilities and airfields.
Both the CIA and DIA believed a possible Chinese attack through Burma would be mounted through two routes – the Kunming-Dibrugarh road via Ledo and the Kunming-Tezpur road via Mandalay and Imphal.
However, the CIA concluded that China posed only a “limited air threat” to India because of the weakness in “equipment and combat proficiency” of the air force and the lack of adequate bases in the Himalayan region.
Almost a year after the 1962 war, CIA deputy director Ray Cline informed McGeorge Bundy, special assistant to President John F Kennedy, that there were “several reasons to be concerned about the possibility of a Chinese Communist attack on the Sino-Indian border”.
China had about 120,000 troops in Tibet “capable of launching an attack on the scale of last fall with little or no warning” and Beijing “may have a political or psychological urge to demonstrate…their lack of fear of their enemies by giving the Indians another black eye right in front of both the Russians and Americans”, Bundy wrote.
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