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July 17, 2015: It was recently revealed that the British SAS commandos have, since about 2010 recruited a dozen Gurkhas. The SAS, who were the original modern commandos and were first formed during World War II, are a very selective and elite organization. There are only about 200-300 SAS operators active and several years ago it was decided to recruit some Gurkhas. What was unusual about this was that the Gurkhas are not British and it is very rare for commando organizations to recruit foreigners. The Gurkhas are different in that they have served Britain loyally for a long time. While the Gurkhas are native to Nepal (a small country north of India) for two centuries Britain has recruited Gurkhas from the Gurkha tribes. This was mainly because Gurkhas have an outstanding reputation for military skills including discipline, bravery and all round kick-ass soldiering. Having served in the British Army, most can speak good English and all are familiar with British weapons, tactics and military customs.
There are currently 3,500 Gurkhas serving in the British army, and recruiting more is not a problem. Because of high unemployment in Nepal, a job in the British army is like winning the lottery. British military pay is more than 30 times what a good job in Nepal will get you. There are over sixty applicants for each of the few hundred openings each year. The men who don’t make it into the British army, can try getting into the Indian Army Gurkha units. There are about ten times as many Gurkhas in the Indian army, but the pay is only a few times what one could make in Nepal, and the fringe benefits are not nearly as good. Then again, you’re closer to home.
When the SAS quietly sought Gurkha recruits they found fifty willing to try out. A dozen of these passed the screening and survived the training. That’s a slightly higher pass rate than the usual SAS volunteers (British citizens serving in the army or Royal Marines). This was not surprising because Gurkhas have an outstanding military record. Such mercenary duty is now a tradition in the Gurkha tribes, where warriors, and things like loyalty and courage, have been held in high esteem for centuries. Nepal was never conquered by the British, although they did fight a war with the colonial British army in the early 19th century. Although the Nepalis lost, they became allies of the British after a peace treaty was worked out. It was during these border wars that the British noted the military prowess of the Gurkha tribesmen. The British colonial army in India tended to hire from tribes and ethnic groups that appeared to make better soldiers, and Gurkhas soon made a reputation for themselves in British service. Since then, over half a million Nepalis have served in the British army, with about ten percent of them dying in combat (over 80 percent of those during the two world wars.)
The United Kingdom now pays retired Gurkha soldiers at the same rate as other British soldiers. That means a Gurkhas annual pension is nearly $12,000. The average income in Nepal is about $200 a year. The British pension (for 15 years service) makes veterans living in Nepal quite wealthy, by Nepalese standards. However, an increasing number of Gurkhas have been retiring in Britain, instead of returning to Nepal. Britain is the nest place for retired Gurkha soldiers to find a job. Being a bodyguard is one of the more attractive second careers for retired Gurkhas in Britain. There are several companies in Britain that specialize in providing Gurkhas for security work. Many Gurkhas were hired for key security jobs in Iraq, and then Afghanistan. These Gurkhas earned a reputation of reliability that has spread, as has the number of potential employers.
The SAS wanted Gurkhas because most speak Urdu (the most common language in Pakistan and widely used in Afghanistan) and Gurkhas, being from South Asia, can more easily pass as locals. That plus their military experience and skills all of which are enhanced by the SAS training and experience.