Camp Hale

U.S. Senator Mark Udall (fifth from right), with Tibetan participants commemorating the CIA’s Tibetan training program at Camp Hale (1958-64)

At a ceremony in the mountains of central Colorado, the U.S. Forest Service today unveiled a plaque to commemorate the training by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency of Tibetan freedom fighters at Camp Hale, Colorado, from 1958 to 1964. The event, presided over by U.S. Senator Mark Udall (D-CO), included former CIA agents and Tibetans involved in the operation, family members, and representatives of the U.S. Forest Service and the Tibetan-American community in Colorado.

During his remarks at the ceremony, Senator Udall said: “What [the plaque] represents is a shared worthy endeavor of the American and Tibetan people, a lasting memorial to the brave freedom fighters and their dedicated CIA instructors.”

The plaque unveiled today reads: “From 1958 to 1964, CampHale played an important role as a training site for Tibetan Freedom Fighters. Trained by the CIA, many of these brave men lost their lives in the struggle for freedom. ‘They were the best and bravest of their generation, and we wept together when they were killed fighting alongside their countrymen.’ (Orphans of the Cold War, by John Kenneth Knaus). This plaque is dedicated to their memory.”

“We commend Senator Udall for his lead in the U.S. Congress and for working with the U.S. Forest Service to provide proper recognition of the historic U.S. support rendered in the name of Tibetan freedom and the heroism demonstrated by many Tibetans who fought for their country,” said Todd Stein, Director of Government Relations at the International Campaign for Tibet.

As part of a program, which lasted from 1957 through 1972, to aid Tibetan resistance against the encroachment of Chinese Communism into Tibet, the CIA trained Tibetan soldiers in guerrilla warfare in Camp Hale, Colorado. This site was chosen because of its physical similarities to eastern Tibet where the trainees would later be airdropped. CampHale had served as a training base for the 10th Mountain Division in World War II. Those living in the surrounding community were unaware of the operation, and had been purposely misled by government officials who claimed that it was an atomic testing site.

The CIA training of Tibetans commenced a few years after the Communist takeover of China in 1949 and its army’s invasion and occupation of Tibet, which had previously enjoyed self-government, in 1950-1951. At the time, the United States saw Mao Zedong’s government in Beijing as a potential exporter of Communism and a threat to U.S. allies and interests in the region. Armed and equipped by the CIA with supplies and tactical training, eight groups of Tibetan freedom fighters were air-dropped back into Tibetto regroup with other Tibetan resistance fighters battling the Chinese People’s Liberation Army. Graduates from CampHale trained approximately 2,000 fellow Tibetan warriors.

Like many CIA operations, the U.S. involvement with Tibetan guerrillas, including the training program at Camp Hale, has not officially been acknowledged by the U.S. government previously. The history of this era is increasingly being written about by academics, journalists, and those who participated in it, both Tibetan and American.