British Army is considering Gurkha-style unit with Afghan Special Forces
- The many Afghans who fled the Taliban takeover include members of the special forces of the Afghan army.
- These forces are well trained and respected and the UK is considering adding some to the UK military.
- The British Army has a history of hosting foreign fighters, some of whom have earned their own formidable reputations.
In the final days of the frantic withdrawal from Kabul, US and coalition forces evacuated tens of thousands of their citizens and Afghans who had worked with them.
Among the evacuees were Afghan special forces who fought bitterly against the Taliban and who fought against the brutal deaths when caught. The United Kingdom, which has taken in several hundred Afghans, is considering setting up a special unit of former Afghan commandos in the British Army.
It wouldn’t be the first time the British military has done this. There is already a special unit of foreign fighters in the British Army.
The Gurkhas come from four warrior tribes from the steep mountains of Nepal. When the British first came into contact with them during the colonization of India, they were fierce opponents.
The British were so impressed by their fighting spirit and skills that they formed Gurkha units in their own military.
For over 200 years, the Gurkhas have been an integral part of the British Army, serving in all major conflicts including both World Wars, Korea, the Falkland Islands, Iraq and Afghanistan.
In the two world wars alone, 200,000 Gurkhas fought for the British, of whom 43,000 died. A total of 13 Gurkhas have received the Victoria Cross – the British equivalent of the US Medal of Honor.
“My experience with Gurkhas has been overwhelmingly positive,” a former Special Boat Service operator told Insider.
The former SBS operator recalled a mission in Afghanistan during which he and others were bunkered for a few days at a Gurkha base in order to pursue a valuable Taliban target.
“He was a very bad guy and we’ve been following him for a while,” said the former SBS operator. “The area was pretty dangerous. Every time the Gurkhas came out of the FOB, they got into a firefight or found an improvised explosive device,” added the former commando.
While the SBS operator’s unit was pursuing its goal, the Taliban violently attacked the FOB, “but the Gurkhas stood firm and fought back the Taliban. In the morning we come back and there was chaos. The FOB had received a good beating, “said the former commandant.
Looking across the battlefield in and around the FOB, the SBS operator saw a young Gurkha covering the surrounding fields with a machine gun.
“I can still remember him. He was dusty and his face blackened from all that gunpowder. He looks at me with a cheeky smile, his white teeth are shiny. After more than eight hours of fighting, he was still happy! ”The SBS operator told Insider. “I think this moment sums up the Gurkhas. Happy but tough. I don’t want to be their enemy.”
Today 3,500 Gurkhas are in the service of the British. Every year around 200 places become available in their ranks, for which around 28,000 applicants apply. But Gurkhas not only serve in the British Army.
The Singaporean military has a Gurkha unit that attracted international attention in 2018 when it was tasked with securing the summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean ruler Kim Jong Un.
Gurkhas have earned a fearsome reputation for bravery and warfare – the khukuri knife they carry nourishes their reputation.
An Afghan “Gurkha” unit?
Afghan special forces are highly regarded in a country with a long history of fearsome fighters.
Afghans drove the Soviets out of the country after 10 years of fighting in the 1980s, and the Taliban have been fighting the US and coalition forces for 20 years, albeit with varying degrees of intensity.
Like their predecessors who fought against the Soviets, Afghan commandos relied on substantial foreign aid, but they gained extensive combat experience. Those who managed to survive the very high casualty figures and flee Afghanistan are battle-tested.
But bringing the Gurkhas together will be “a big task,” said the former SBS command.
With Gurkhas, the former commando added: “They have a civil-warrior culture that has been passed on from father to son for generations. Nepalese boys and teenagers line up by the hundreds to join the Gurkhas, and those who don’t make the cut have somehow fallen out of favor in their society. It’s a tough world for sure, but it’s a reflection of its reality, history and culture. “
The views of the US specialist community on Afghan commandos are mixed. American special forces have served with great and dedicated Afghan commands as well as unmotivated and unimaginative commands.
The establishment of an Afghan unit within the British army could be feasible in the short term. Afghans have been fighting a bitter enemy for years, and many already know how the British military operates. The British armed forces are already ethnically diverse, reflecting the colonial history of Britain which the British Special Forces has used to their advantage.
However, it could be difficult to maintain such a unit in the long run as the recruits could run out. Direct recruitment from Afghanistan would be fraught with security risks. Potential future recruits from Afghanistan would be less trained and potentially less reliable, making such a unit much less realistic.
Even if an Afghan unit may not be feasible, the British special unit could still use the opportunity to add individual Afghan commands to its ranks.
Stavros Atlamazoglou is a special operations defense journalist, a Hellenic Army veteran (national service at 575th Marine Battalion and Army Headquarters) and a graduate of Johns Hopkins University.