Sunday, November 01, 2015

Armed forces’ mysterious tribal warriors: the reserve mountain company

Taiwan is a mountainous island with rugged and challenging terrains. In 1982, in the rural areas inhabited by aboriginals, the Army Control District Command established the reserve mountain companies composed of troopers from Taiwan's indigenous peoples. Their mission in the peacetime was to manage mountainous battlefields, stage mountain area mobilization and help enforce mountain area security; during wartime, their job was to use anti-airborne assault, anti-infiltration, and anti-guerrilla warfare measures to defend the mountainous regions to stop enemy forces from entering our rear areas and secure our supply lines.  

This rarely known unit, as now under the jurisdiction of  the Armed Forces Reserve Command, has only one officer on duty in each rural township in peacetime; however, as many as 200 men could be immediately mobilized in times of war. Except for the standard-issued rifle, each soldier of this company is also equipped with bow and arrow and machete as their silent weapons; for that, they were nicknamed‘tribal warriors’ or ‘Rambo soldiers.’

It was not the first time for Taiwan’s aboriginal tribal men to be organized as special military units to conduct special warfare. During World War II, the Japanese drafted as many as 4,000 Japanese-speaking men from several indigenous tribes and deployed them in the Philippines as commandos to raid the US airfields and supply lines. Among which, the Takasago Giyutai(高砂義勇隊) and the Kaoru Airborne Raiding Detachment (薰空挺隊) were well-known. Naturally born mastering of jungle warfare, these fighters gave Americans considerable hard time. Nevertheless, they also suffered heavy casualties. Of the 4,000 men inducted, more than 3,000 were killed in action.

Members of the Takasago Giyutai initially were not seen as imperial soldiers. Their jobs at the fronts were confined to carrying ammo, fortifying, building roads and bridges, and evacuating the wounded. However, as these aboriginals were intelligent and brave, the front line commanding officers tended to send them to undertake search, reconnaissance, demolition, and special operations missions. Their superb performances in the battlefields soon won the trust of Japanese commanders, who were eager to have these indigenous people serve in their own troops.

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