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News | Jan. 28, 2022

Master the Jungle: Counter Insurgency in Nepal

By 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne) 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne)

The legendary jungles of Nepal are known for their treacherous terrain and the nuanced socioeconomic dynamics that are nestled along its dense boundaries. Nepal Army Counter Insurgency and Jungle Warfare Course (CIJW) is designed to train students to master the complexities of the physical jungle, as well as the intricacies of the human domain within the challenging Counter Insurgency (COIN) battlespace. The predatory wildlife to include the infamous Nepali tigers, lowland flashfloods, and steep hilly terrain, are just some of the many physical challenges’ students of CIJW learn to master. Because of the geographical location, Nepal has a long history of combating foreign powers—most recent of which is having overcome a growing insurgency within the borders—making the school an ideal opportunity for students to learn jungle warfare and COIN tactics. An added complexity of conducting foreign military exchange programs is the COVID-19 pandemic, which requires intensive coordination between armies to mitigate spread and creatively navigate other logistical elements of foreign relations. Fortunately for U.S. Soldiers engaging with their Nepal partners, they find that the commitment of the Nepal Army and their effective countermeasures make continued growth feasible, accessible, and beneficial.

The Nepal Counter Insurgency (COIN) and Jungle Warfare Course is a grueling 12-week course that trains students to master the jungle and navigate the human domain to win in the challenging COIN battlespace. In August 2021, 1st Battalion, 1st Special Forces Group sent two Green Berets to learn and overcome, alongside their Nepal Army Officer peers, the many obstacles that compose CIJW and turn daring students into “Jungle Tigers.” The course began in 1976 to address the needs for the Nepal Army and to master a dominating ecosystem within the country’s borders: the jungle. Throughout the next 25 years, the Jungle Warfare School taught many Nepal Army Officers and Soldiers the importance of mastering the Jungle to achieve the tactical advantage over a potential invading conventional force. However, Nepal faced a new threat that would require the school to evolve.

In 1996, Nepal faced a growing insurgency. Over the following 10 years, the Jungle Warfare Course would lead the way in training the Nepal Army by providing the necessary skill sets to fight the new form of combatants the country faced. This period of conflict fostered the renowned Nepal Army Counter Insurgency and Jungle Warfare School (CIJW).

The course curriculum is rooted with historical experience that the Nepal Army faced during the 10-year insurgency. This gives the course an authentic flare that provides depth through combat anecdotes and lessons learned from the knowledgeable instructors. The CIJW instructors are highly trained and provided their personal experience along with specific considerations which are unique to Nepal; significantly increasing student understanding of the dense curriculum.

The instructors and the CIJW Commandant, Col. Subash K.C., have exceptionally high expectations of the students. This ensures that the course pushes each to their limit - physically and mentally. Although a high standard to maintain, Col. Subash knows this is critical to promote the livelihood of each Soldier and the security of Nepal.

The training day begins every morning at 6 a.m. with a long trail run, followed by intensive counterinsurgency classes then ends when the daily practical application is complete, going as late as 1 a.m. if necessary. Every day, students learn the fundamentals of stability operations and counter insurgency. In the evenings, the students plan and conduct training operations, immediately applying knowledge gained in class. During this time, instructors remain nearby as bastions of knowledge, ensuring the students understand the importance of supporting and protecting the population in every operation conducted. The success of the students is due largely in part to their incredible physical fitness and intense work ethic; both of these traits are absolute necessities to take on the jungle.

Every Soldier that leaves CIJW will master the jungle, but not without heavy cost. The austere terrain of the Alekhmgunj plain and hill regions, respectively known in Nepali as the “Terai” and “Chure” regions, present an intimidating obstacle. Every student becomes intimately familiar with these extreme ecosystems throughout the many training events that teach them skills to leverage the terrain in their favor. These skills are tested during 60 trail runs amassing to 540 km, four land navigation exercises amassing to over 300 kms, and five rigorous and complicated practical exercises. The instructors frequently remind students that the jungle is neutral, it is neither friend nor foe. The jungle is an unforgiving environment that can quickly exhaust a formidable force that is unfamiliar with it. However, a unit that respects the extreme temperature variations, the numerous hidden cliff faces, and the predatorial wildlife will ultimately win the fight. The jungle requires units to change their standard operating procedures and mindset because factors like day-time visibility are a privilege in dense jungle – observations and fields of fire often are limited to five meters. The problem set that the jungle presents only grows in complexity as Soldiers generally accustomed to GPS, accessible line of sight communication, convoy movements, and air assets come to understand that many of these ‘combat comforts’ have little to absolutely no use in the austere environment. Soldiers attending the course, through countless falls, slips, and many hard lessons, learn that operating in the jungle requires the active use of all five senses and considerable planning considerations to ensure a unit’s survivability. When CIJW students begin to feel comfortable, the course introduces the next challenge, applying their growing appreciation for the jungle to the intricacies of COIN operations.

COIN operations also require a conventional force to alter its mindset and evolve its tactics to an ever-changing environment. Although no insurgency is the same, the strategies to counter an insurgency follow an identical theme: win the hearts and minds of the population. CIJW instructors, with their real-world application, reminded students of this concept and illustrated the application throughout training events. The instructors press the need to conduct population centric operations, guiding students whose conventional training stressed the need to increase offensive operations targeting the enemy. CIJW instruction methodology emphasizes the need for practical exercises, which is difficult to organize for population centric tactics. The work around is creativity and community involvement. CIJW solicits the assistance of the nearby villages to provide students with extreme realism in scenarios. Civilians provide homes, role players, and meeting locations, among other things, to guarantee students receive the most realistic and applicable learning experience. CIJW expresses their gratitude for the local population through humanitarian assistance projects conducted by the students as portions of their training exercises. This methodology significantly increases the learning curve students face by altering their conventional mindset, to a population focused one; this was achieved by constructing training events that require them to navigate the true human dynamic. This type of training is especially beneficial for the Nepal Soldiers as their COIN efforts are internally focused, providing them a rare opportunity to work within target communities. By the end of the course, students will be adequately capable of navigating two challenging pieces of terrain – the jungle, and the population.

CIJW is not all pain, and the student’s struggles do not go unnoticed. The staff and instructors made ample time for students to socialize over food and cultural exchanges. Each gathering was an example of the extent that the Nepal Army, showcased through CIJW, would go to further relationships with their foreign friends, all while combating COVID-19 and adhering to restrictions to safely promote international partnerships.

The last two years have proved to be exceptionally challenging in maintaining partner relationships. In a time where the challenges of staying connected are multifaceted, the Nepal Army continues to demonstrate the ability to balance COVID mitigation while providing consistent engagement with their U.S. counterparts. By maintaining constant communication leading up to the school start, both armies were able to effectively implement safety measures. The U.S. Green Berets had received both doses of the COVID19 vaccination as well a negative PCR test prior to departing their home station. Upon arrival to Kathmandu, the Nepal Army coordinated the stay and meals for the 2-week quarantine period. The hospitality continued throughout the stay, proving the world-renowned generosity of the Nepalese perseveres through a global pandemic. Although cultural immersion events for Foreign Students were limited by pandemic restrictions, the Nepal Army and CIJW developed small group activities that ensured their country, and its beauty, could be fully appreciated. To support activities such as catered tours of Chitwan National Forest, Nagarkot, and Pokhara, instructors often gave up their personal time to provide a unique experience while ensuring the safety of the students.

The Nepal Counter Insurgency and Jungle Warfare Course is a center of excellence that teaches students the complexities of stability operations while increasing their capacity to leverage the jungle in combat. The Nepal Army and CIJW imparted two US Special Forces Officers of 1st Battalion, 1st Special Forces Group with practical COIN knowledge learned firsthand through Nepal’s 1996-2006 Maoist insurgency. The Nepal Army’s desire to remain connected to their U.S. partners was reflected in not only the knowledge shared, but through every instructor’s interaction and sacrifice to create a memorable experience. There is still much more to learn and share from one another; this exchange program will be but one touchpoint to enhance our armies’ shared future.