Versatile peacekeepers

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Lt. Eric Bouysson
First published in
SFOR Informer#132, February 14, 2002

Gurkha units first served with the British Army in 1815. Gurkha soldiers, who are actually citizens of Nepal, are still serving with the British Army. The Royal Gurkha Rifles (RGR) have been deployed in many countries and are now in the Balkans.

Manjaca - As an operational reserve component for the Multinational Division Southwest (MND-SW), Gurkhas are frontline. Comprised of a total of three regiments, the Gurkha Rifle Regiments rotate postings every three years. While one is in SFOR, one is based in Brunei specialising in jungle warfare and the other regiment serves in the United Kingdom. Until 1997 there was a regiment in Hong Kong prior to the peninsula's return to mainland China.
Always ready for short-notice taskings, before coming to Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) the 2nd RGR kept the peace in Sierra Leone in 2001. Maj. Paul Fitch Fork, commander of 2nd RGR's B Company, explained that while they still retain their Nepalese citizenship, Gurkhas are now fully integrated into the British Army: "They continue to serve the Crown; they have sworn an oath to the Queen."
The deterrence
In SFOR, B company now hones its marksmanship skills at a Manjaca range shared with the Republika Srpska Army (Vojska Republika Srpska, VRS) and SFOR British and Canadian battle groups from MND-SW.
As elite forces, versatility is one of their key-assets. The unit has rapidly converted to mechanised infantry using Saxon Armoured Personnel Carriers (APCs) and it trains with a full collection of military hardware including anti-armour weapons.
Training at the range included a conflict scenario, fine-tuning the unit's riot-control tactics. One platoon-level live-fire manoeuvre featured the successful launch of a self-propelled grenade into a tank. Such skills must be maintained to fulfill their mission in BiH and to prepare for an upcoming battalion-level exercise in Canada.
Modern tactics and ancient skills
The British Army has a wealth of experience in riot-control tactics. The Ghurka unit serving the British Army here is pioneering the use of helicopters to allow a round-the-clock, immediate riot-control response.
"The Chinook is coming from Split and is flown by very proficient Dutch pilots. We have been training to embark and disembark this morning between tactical flight rotations, both rapidly and safely," explains Maj. Fitch Fork. The Chinook, a heavy-duty helicopter, also transports vehicles, which, according to Fork, had never been done before. "We would send troops and some of our vehicles to the hot spot, while the remaining ones would come by road. With helicopters, we can secure a flexible and rapid reaction to prevent violence from escalating." Weather permitting, the Gurkhas can deploy very fast with the ability to bypass most blocked roads.
Prior to arriving in BiH, Nepalese Capt. Dilkumar Rai had completed a special course in crowd and riot control, which was provided by the OPTAG (Operational Training and Advisory Group). Having received the latest training, he has passed these skills to his unit.
"A company-level exercise has been set up to give the soldiers confidence in their skills where Molotov cocktails will be thrown at them," explained Rai. Further training will include feedback from their tour in BiH "so that others can be briefed and benefit from the lessons learned."
Riot-control tactics are nothing new to the Gurkhas. Though not practised in Brunei, they accumulated experience while posted in Hong Kong, long before riot control became a prominent topic for NATO armed forces in Europe. CSgt. Bishner Tamang recalled, "As a young Gurkha, some years ago, I had been practising those low-level intensity conflict skills so the training is not completely new to us.
"Today I am concentrating on administrative tasks for the company but I keep my eyes wide open. We will participate in a major exercise in about one month, called Joint Resolve XXV."
Daily contribution to a secure environment
When not training or intervening as the Divisional Operational Reserve, the 2nd RGR is contributing towards the SFOR mission of a safe and secure environment in BiH. Patrols and armament-harvest operations are conducted on a regular basis, as well as support activities including dissemination of psyops materials. Typical tasks, said Cpt. Fraser Rea, "include the supervision and consolidation of VRS weapon storage sites." Force protection is not overlooked either, insists Rea, and is achieved through a general policy of force projection. "We do not want to remain static and therefore maintain our presence on the ground."
From the hot jungles of Brunei to the winters of the Balkans, the Gurkhas can do the job and play a key role in the SFOR mission.

Related links:
Nations of SFOR: UK
Training and Exercises

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Photos: PO Steve Wood

Support weapon serviceman.


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Squad briefing before firing.


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Dutch Chinook tactical flight.


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Tear gas shots, Saxon protection.


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Innovative tactics.


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British leaders take the lead.


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Some serious radio chat.


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Lunch time, free time.