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Gurkhas train Afghans

April 16, 2004


KABUL: Elite British troops from Nepal are helping to build a new national army for war-battered Afghanistan with the help of a common tongue. Famous for their fearsome forward-curving "kukri" knives and stoic warrior culture , Nepali Gurkhas of the British army are training a core of non-commissioned officers for the new Afghan National Army in time for elections later this year.

The Gurkhas are soldiers enlisted into the British army from Nepal. Nepali is from the same language family as Urdu, which is common to the Indian subcontinent and Afghanistan.

That and the Gurkhas' renowned prowess as fighters make them a good fit to develop an Afghan army from a hotchpotch of ethnic - and tribal-based militias into a professional force, said their commander in Afghanistan.

"We still use translators for detailed lessons, but Gurkhas have a very good grasp of Urdu," said Major Frazer Lawrence of the 2nd Battalion, Royal Gurkha Rifles, in charge of the NCO training effort. "Probably about 60 per cent of Afghans speak some form of Urdu. For basic communication they don't need interpreters."

More than 200 Gurkhas have spent about five months in Afghanistan, many as part of Task Force Phoenix, a US-led mission charged with helping to train the new national army and boost security ahead of the elections. The new army has suffered high rates of desertion in the past but Lawrence said the Gurkha-trained NCOs had been helping to stabilize a growing force.

"Gurkhas are fantastic at training, they are very professional soldiers, and given that they have a reasonable grasp of Urdu as well it makes communication with the Afghans much easier than we thought it would be."

Lawrence said the Gurkhas had trained about 1,000 junior NCOs and were now handing over training to the Afghans themselves, having selected instructors from the best of those they have trained. They expect to leave Afghanistan in a month or two.

"It's absolutely key," Lawrence said. "The Afghan instructors, the ones we choose as combat leaders are very, very good. A number are pretty damn good. I'd say they could hold their own against Brits or US." "They are enthusiastic, they are extremely hardworking, they are very robust and they make very good soldiers."-Reuters