This past week, journalist Anup Kaphle posted a video he had filmed in Helmand Province, Afghanistan (via The Atlantic). In it he explains the very important role Nepali Gurkha soldiers are playing in the war effort. As you will see, this video is timely considering the core of Obama’s new strategy: using military power to buy time in order to “de-corrupt” the Karzai government and to further train the Afghan National Army. I won’t address whether the first part of that strategy is possible, but I would like to briefly address the second. One of the historic problems in training Afghan soldiers has been getting them to work as a unit. In the Afghan warrior culture, one of the ways in which a man makes a name for himself is through individual acts of valor on the battlefield. However, in modern warfare it is incredibly difficult to prevail unless acting as a diciplined team. As seen in the video, the Afghan soldiers seem to identify with the Gurkhas due to similarities in culture, if not religion. Gurkhas also speak and understand Urdu.
The Brigade of Gurkhas is the collective term for units of the current British Army that are composed of Nepalese soldiers. The brigade, which is 3,640 strong, draws its heritage from Gurkha units that originally served in the British Indian Army prior to Indian independence, and prior to that of the East India Company. The brigade includes infantry, engineer, signal, logistic and training and support units. They are famous for their ever-present kukris, a distinctive heavy knife with a curved blade, and for their reputation of being fierce fighters and brave soldiers. They take their name from the hill town of Gorkha from which the Nepalese kingdom had expanded. The ranks have always been dominated by four ethnic groups, the Gurungs and Magars from central Nepal, the Rais and Limbus from the east, who live in hill villages of impoverished hill farmers. [Link]
Nepal is on the brink of all kinds of disaster due to political and economic instability. My Nepali sister-in-law often talks of Nepal as an already failed state with no future. Even though Nepal very clearly falls under India’s sphere-of-influence, I wonder if there might be a strategic opportunity here. Can the U.S. perhaps somehow better fold contributions from Nepal into it’s strategy. I ask because mention of Nepal is often left out of our public strategic discussions. I know the video above is just one small anecdote, but some more Gurkhas working with the British and American forces there sure wouldn’t hurt if our objective is to train Afghanistan’s army as quickly as possible so we can get out.
Also, even if you aren’t interested in this post, make sure to watch the video to see the Gurkha Soliders sing “Poker Face” by Lady GaGa.