Nepal has only one military service, the Nepalese Army (formerly known as the Royal Nepalese Army, RNA). The army’s stated purpose is to protect Nepal from external threats, but because its capabilities are far smaller than those of neighboring China and India, the government historically has used diplomacy rather than force to maintain territorial integrity. The Nepalese Army (also known as the Nepali Army) has been mostly involved in ceremonial functions, international peacekeeping, and supporting the monarchy against domestic opposition. The army also is engaged in domestic noncombat activities, such as infrastructure development, nature conservation, and disaster relief. [Source: Library of Congress, November 2005 **]

Between 2002 and 2006, however, the army was active in a civil war against Maoist rebels who severely tested its reputation and capabilities. The Nepalese Army’s limited resources constrained its ability to protect infrastructure from the Maoists, and the Nepalese Army had to use commercially leased helicopters to improve its limited mobility. The government is attempting to improve the Nepalese Army’s capabilities, and the defense budget has increased substantially since 2000.

The Supreme Commander of the Nepalese Army is the President of Nepal. He acts in conjunction with the seven-member National Defence Council made up of the Prime Minister, the Defence Minister, the Chief of the Army Staff, Foreign Minister, Finance Minister, Home Minister, and the Chief Secretary.

Nepal’s Military Units

Military and security forces: Nepal Army (includes Air Wing); Nepal Armed Police Force (under the Ministry of Home Affairs; paramilitary force responsible for border and internal security, including counter-insurgency, and assisting the Army in the event of an external invasion) (2019). Nepal doesn’t border any seas so it doesn’t have a navy. The Army Air Wing serves as its air force. [Source: CIA World Factbook =]

The Nepalese Army (NA) is organized into six divisions with separate Aviation, Parachute, and Security Brigades as well as brigade-sized directorates encompassing air defense, artillery, engineers, logistics, and signals which provide general support to the Nepalese Army. [Source: “Countries of the World and Their Leaders” Yearbook, Gale, 2009]

Nepal has an army but no navy, coast guard, marines, or air force. Command and control of the military has undergone significant changes since 1990, and in 2001 the Royal Nepalese Army (RNA) shifted from a brigade-based structure to one based on divisions. There are six combat divisions, each responsible for a particular area (Far-Western, Mid-Western, Western, Central, Eastern, and Valley), and each includes combat brigades, combat support, and combat service support units. [Source: Library of Congress, November 2005 **]

One combat brigade is designated as the Royal Guards Brigade, and there are separate aviation, paratrooper, and special operations brigades. Each brigade contains two to three infantry battalions (logistics, rifles, and support) and several independent infantry companies, such as air defense, artillery, engineers, field ambulance, light artillery, ordnance, repair, and signals. Foreign observers estimate that in 2003 the army had between 63,000 and 85,000 active-duty personnel, including nearly 320 personnel in the Royal Nepal Army Air Wing (RNAAW). The army has no reserve component. **

Paramilitary Forces: The Armed Police Force (APF) was established in January 2001 as a subordinate unit of the Ministry of Home Affairs, which reportedly created some tensions between the ministry and the army. The APF has a force of approximately 15,000 personnel, and its primary function is internal security, particularly to contain the Maoist insurgency. Other duties include VIP security and assisting the Nepal Police in maintenance of law and order. **

In 2005, at the height of the war with the Maoists, Nepal had a paramilitary force of 62,000, which consisted of an armed police force of 15,000 under the Ministry of Home Affairs, and a regular police force of 47,000. At that time the army number 69,000 personnel. [Source: “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations”, Thomson Gale, 2007]

Royal Nepalese Army

The Royal Nepalese Army had traditionally been a young and largely ceremonial military unit. Much of its energy was spent guarding Kathmandu, the main roads around Kathmandu and the headquarters it set up in the districts it operated. It some troops to participated in United Nations peacekeeping missions but did little at home until it entered the civil war against the Maoists in 2002. That conflict began in 1996, with police and paramilitary engaged in the much of the fighting against the Maoists and even they didn’t do so much. Nepal government forces were largely on the defensive as Maoists methodically raided their armories to obtain weapons and took over parts of the country beyond the reach of the government.

The Royal Nepalese Army was under the control of the king rather than the parliament. The King was its Supreme Commander. There was nothing in the constitutions that stated the army was under the king’s control but it was a long standing tradition. The generals did not like the idea of taking orders from an elected government.

In 2005, the Royal Nepalese Army was comprised 69,000 active personnel. At that time, at the height of the war with the Maoists, Nepal also had a paramilitary force of 62,000, which consisted of an armed police force of 15,000 under the Ministry of Home Affairs, and a regular police force of 47,000. [Source: “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations”, Thomson Gale, 2007]

Nepal’s 2015 Constitution on National Defense

PART 28 — Provision regarding National Security — of the Constitution of Nepal, approved in September 2015, reads: 266. National Defense Council ((1). There shall be a National Defense Council to formulate policies for Nepal’s overall national interests, security and defense, and in order to make recommendations to the Council of Ministers, Government of Nepal on mobilization or control of Nepal Army comprising following Chairperson and members: -
a. Prime Minister -Chairperson • Head of government powers
b. Defense Minister, Government of Nepal -Member
c. Home Minister, Government of Nepal -Member
d. Minister for Foreign Affairs, Government of Nepal-Member
e. Finance Minister, Government of Nepal -Member
f. Chef Secretary of Government of Nepal-Member
g. Chief of the Army Staff-Member

((2). The Secretary of Ministry of Defense shall work as the Secretary of National Defense Council. ((3). The National Defense Council shall submit its annual report to the President; the President shall make it present to the federal legislature through the Council of Ministers, Government of Nepal. ((4). Other provisions of National Defense Council shall be in accordance with Federal law.

  1. Provision relating to Nepal Army ((1). There shall be an organization of Nepal Army, committed to democratic principles, inclusive in character and national in form, for the protection of Nepal’s independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity, autonomy and national unity.((2). The President shall be the Supreme Commander-in-Chief of the Nepal Army.

Designation of commander in chief ((3). The entry of women, Dalit, indigenous community, Khash Arya, Madhesi, Tharu, Muslim, people of backward class and backward region shall be ensured in Nepal Army, based on the principle of equality and principles of inclusion as provided for in the Federal law. Integration of ethnic communities ((4). The Government of Nepal may, in accordance with Federal law, mobilize Nepal Army for works relating to development, disaster management and others.

((5). The President shall appoint or remove the Commander-in-Chief of Nepal Army on the recommendation of the Council of Ministers. Powers of cabinet: Selection of active-duty commanders ((6). Mobilization of Nepal Army shall be declared by the President according to the decision by Council of Ministers, Government of Nepal on recommendation of National Defense Council during wars on security of any parts, territorial integrity or sovereignty of Nepal, external attacks, armed insurgency or serious crisis arisen due to extreme economic breakdown. Decision of mobilization of Nepal Army shall have to be approved by the House of Representatives within a month of the declaration. Powers of cabinet: Designation of commander in chief ((7). Other provisions relating to Nepal Army shall be as provided by law.

Organization of the Royal Nepalese Army

Royal Nepalese Army was officially renamed to the Nepalese Army on May 2008, following the abolition of the Nepalese monarchy after the Nepalese Civil War. According to the 1990 constitution which has since been replaced by the 2015 Constitution the king was the supreme commander of the army and he appointed the commander in chief (the chief of army staff, or COAS) on the prime minister’s recommendation. The king could control the army on the recommendation of the National Defense Council, which consisted of the COAS, the minister of defense, and the prime minister, who served as chairman. The king’s suspension of the government in February 2005 terminated the prime minister’s military powers temporarily. [Source: Library of Congress, November 2005 **]

The COAS delegates operational functioned to various generals and principal staff officers but personally directed the army’s Research and Development Directorate, Defense Ordnance Productions Directorate, and Development Construction Directorate. The Military Intelligence Directorate and the National Defense Council were primarily responsible for intelligence activities. Directly responsible to the COAS were the chief of general staff (CGS) and the chief of staff (COS). The CGS was the head of “G” Branch and was primarily responsible for operations, intelligence, and training, each of which was organized in individual directorates. The COS was responsible for military operations other than war, which include United Nations peacekeeping operations, nature conservation and wildlife preservation, and the army’s welfare organizations. The COS has approximately 4,400 army troops under his direct control.

After the monarch was abolished in 2008, the Prime Minister was the Supreme Commander of the Nepalese Army. In 2009, the Prime Minister was the Minister of Defense. General Rookmangud Katawal was Chief of the Army Staff (COAS), also the senior commissioned officer of the Nepalese Army. [Source: “Countries of the World and Their Leaders” Yearbook, Gale, 2009]

Nepalese Army Personnel

Armed forces personnel (percentage of total labor force): 0.7 percent (compared to 9 percent in North Korea and 0.8 percent in the United States). [Source: World Bank ]

The Nepal Army has approximately 95,000 active troops (including a small air wing of about 500 personnel); approximately 15,000 Nepal Armed Police (2019 estimated) Number of people in the military: 111,600 (compared 74,200 in Argentina, 1,358,193 in the United States, 0 in Costa Rica, and 2,035,000 in China). In Nepal there are 96,000 in the active military; 0 in the reserve military; 15,000 in the paramilitary; 3.8 per 1,000 people (total); and 3.3 per 1,000 people (active) [Source: CIA World Factbook, 2020; Wikipedia Wikipedia ]

Military service age: The minimum age is 18 age for the voluntary military service (including women). There is no conscription (2019). Women are eligible for military service, but most serve in noncombat positions. [Source: = Library of Congress, November 2005]

Nepalese security forces have generally been regarded as ill-trained with the exception of the Gurkhas who generally serve in British or foreign military units. The first female recruits of the army completed their training in August 2004. The 197 women were initially assigned non-combat roles such as operating telephones and computers. The plan is for them to eventually be assigned to fighting units.

Organization of Nepal’s Armed Forces

The organizational structure of the Nepalese defense establishment reflected the country's indigenous military traditions, its long association with the British military, and reforms introduced by Indian military advisers in the 1950s and 1960s. There was strong reason to suspect that the basic changes introduced by the constitution as a result of the success of the prodemocracy movement would, in time, lead to new organizational arrangements and changes in command and control in line with the political realities that emerged in the early 1990s. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1991 *]

Following the British pattern, there was a Ministry of Defence, which, in conjunction with the king and the Parliament, was responsible for overseeing the military establishment. As with other government ministers, the minister of defense (a portfolio assumed by Prime Minister G.P. Koirala upon his government's assumption of office on May 29, 1991) was a cabinet official appointed by the prime minister. Under previous constitutions, the king ordinarily assumed the role of minister of defense, although routine oversight of the ministry was performed by a civilian bureaucrat or army officer who served at the pleasure of the king. The Ministry of Defence, located in Kathmandu, was responsible for overseeing routine matters such as pay, budget, and procurement, although the army high command retained broad discretion in matters relating to promotions and recruitment. Real command authority over military operations was generally reserved for the king, who acted in accordance with the wishes of the National Defence Council and the elected civilian government. As of mid-1991, the degree of influence these newly chartered organizations had over military affairs could not be determined.*

The nation's sole regular armed force was the Royal Nepal Army, also headquartered in Kathmandu. There was no separate air force. The army, however, operated a small air wing, primarily to transport troops within the country and to aid the civilian population during natural disasters. Because Nepal is landlocked, the country had no naval capabilities beyond a few small launches used by the army to patrol lakes and ford rivers..*

The Royal Nepal Army headquarters was patterned after the British and Indian systems. The highest post in army headquarters was that of chief of army staff, the only four-star billet in 1991. Directly below the chief were five staff sections: inspector general, quartermaster general, adjutant general, major general of ordnance, and the general staff general. All sections were headed by major generals, a two-star billet. Of the five sections, the most important was the general staff general, as all army field echelons reported to army headquarters through him. This office also controlled functional directorates dealing with military operations, training, military intelligence, infantry brigades, and support units.*

Force Dispositions of the Nepalese Military

In 1991 the Royal Nepal Army, numbering approximately 35,000, was the country's sole military force. Army organization followed the British pattern. Field formations included fourteen infantry brigades. The brigades were numbered consecutively from one through sixteen (minus numbers eight and twelve, which were considered inauspicious according to Hindu astrology). The fourteen brigades, in turn, controlled a variety of units, including infantry battalions, an airborne unit, an air defense regiment, a signal battalion, a transportation regiment, an armored car company, and an unknown number of independent infantry companies and special forces units. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1991 *]

One of the army infantry battalions served as part of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) and performed peacekeeping duties in the Arab-Israeli dispute. Personnel in this battalion served six-month tours of duty, after which they returned home and were replaced by personnel drawn from other units on a rotating basis. Selection for service in UNIFIL was highly coveted by soldiers of all rank because those who served abroad received United Nations-scale pay and perquisites, as well as the opportunity to purchase consumer items that were unavailable or prohibitively expensive at home.*

The peacetime disposition of forces underscored the fact that the army's primary mission was to back up local police in maintaining security in the Kathmandu Valley, the seat of government and the linchpin of political stability in the country. Fully half of the army brigades were garrisoned in or around the capitol, including the elite Royal Guards Brigade (the ninth) that served as the monarchy's praetorian guard. Additionally, many of the independent and specialized army units were attached to brigades stationed in Kathmandu. These units included an airborne battalion (known as the "para battalion") and various signal, engineer, artillery, transport, and medical units. Brigade headquarters outside the capital were located at Pokhara, Dipayal, and other towns across the country. Each of the brigades bore a distinctive unit nomenclature after the British fashion and wore distinctive arm patches. Lower echelon designations within each brigade included squadrons and troops (equivalent to United States Army companies and platoons, respectively).*

Weapons and Military Equipment of the Nepalese Army

Throughout its modern existence, the army has had to cope with shortages of virtually every category of weapon and equipment. Inventory consisted mostly of obsolete weapons purchased from, or donated by, India and Britain. This equipment included Ferret scout cars, various calibers of towed artillery pieces and mortars, and a diverse array of small arms. During wartime and declared national emergencies, the military had the authority to commandeer private and state-owned transport assets, such as trucks and buses for ferrying troops and supplies. Some miscellaneous equipment items, such as communications gear, small arms, and air defense guns, were purchased from France, Germany, the United States, and China. Nepal lacked both the financial resources to purchase major equipment items and a foreign benefactor willing to supply armaments on a grant or concessional basis. Consequently, it was unlikely that Nepal could sustain high-intensity combat operations without massive foreign assistance provided on a timely basis. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1991 *]

Military equipment: The Army's inventory includes a mix of older equipment largely of British, Chinese, Indian, Russian, and South African origin. Since 2010, China, Italy, and Russia have been Nepal’s top suppliers of military hardware Nepal (2019 estimated). Main battle tanks: 0; Military aircraft: 0; Attack helicopters: 14.Nepal doesn’t border any seas so it doesn’t have any naval ships. The country is so mountainous — and swampy and jungly in places it is not — that tanks are of little use and it is hard make landing strips for military aircraft. [Source: CIA World Factbook, 2020]

India has traditionally been the largest provider of military aid to Nepal. It has provided Nepal with trucks, helicopters and weapons. In 2004, the United States gave Nepal $22 million in military assistance. This was enough to nearly double the Nepalese military from 45,000 soldiers to 78,000 and enabled soldiers to replace World War II-vintage rifles with M-16s.

In 2004 the army was believed to have 40 reconnaissance vehicles, 40 armored personnel carriers, six 75-millimeter artillery missiles, five 94-millimeter mountain artillery missiles, 14 105-millimeter artillery missiles, 70 120-millimeter mortars, a publicly unavailable number of 107-millimeter M30 mortars, 30 PRC Type 56 14.5-millimeter light antiaircraft guns, an unknown number of 37-millimeter light antiaircraft guns, and two 40- millimeter antiaircraft guns. The air wing had one BAe–748 aircraft and one Skyvan as well as 11 helicopters but no combat aircraft or armed helicopters. [Source: Library of Congress, November 2005]

Air Wing of the Nepalese Army

The army also supported a modest air wing known as the Royal Nepal Army Air Service. In 2005 the army air wing consisted of 320 personnel with no combat aircraft. Its air fleet was made up of two fixed wing transports, seven support, and five utility helicopters. [Source: “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations”, Thomson Gale, 2007]

The army air wing has used relatively small Polish-built M28 Skytruck prop planes and MI-17, HAL Lancer and HAL Dhruv helicopters. The UK gave gave two Britten-Norman Islander prop airplanes and two MI-17s for free. China decided to supply an MA-60 (a Y-7 derivative). Nepal has also purchased French-built HAL Cheetah and HAL Chetak helicopters. In November 2014, India gave an HAL Dhruv to Nepal as part of a strategic pact. [Source: Wikipedia]

Based in Kathmandu and subordinate to a brigade, the organization was established in 1979. Its missions were to transport troops to far-flung outposts that were inaccessible by road, to fly paratroopers to drop zones, and to assist in civilian relief operations in the aftermath of natural disasters such as floods or avalanches. In 1991 the army air service inventory included fixed-wing aircraft, such as Indian-made HS-748 turboprops, Skyvans, and a DeHaviland Twin Otter. Its helicopter inventory included Pumas, a Bell 2061, Allouettes, and Chetaks (Indian-made Allouettes). In all, the air order of battle totalled about fourteen aircraft of all descriptions, none of which were believed to be armed with guns or missiles. Consequently, the army air service was considered a logistics support element as opposed to an offensive strike asset.*

Pilots were trained abroad, primarily in India and Britain. The force reportedly suffered critical shortages of maintenance personnel, owing to the scarcity of technically competent recruits and the attraction of lucrative job offers in the Persian Gulf and elsewhere. There were thirty-six airfields in Nepal that could be used for military airlift operations. Many of the airfields were configured for short takeoff and landing (STOL) aircraft operated by Royal Nepal Airlines, the government-owned commercial airline. Commercial aircraft could be pressed into military service during emergencie. In 1991 the inventory of Royal Nepal Airlines totalled eighteen aircraft.*

Recruitment for the Nepalese Military

In 1991 recruitment into the all-volunteer Royal Nepal Army theoretically was open to all citizens regardless of caste, religion, or ethnic background. In practice, however, recruits tended to be drawn from the ethnic and caste groups that have traditionally supplied the bulk of the Nepalese and Gurkha regiments; the military apparently preferred to recruit from ethnic groups drawn from the mountain areas and the Kathmandu Valley. Not only were these groups the traditional source of military recruitment, but they generally were presumed to be untainted by any real or imagined loyalties to India. As with similar complaints leveled against Kathmandu's preferential recruitment policies for government service, residents of the Terai Region voiced complaints of official discrimination in military recruitment. According to press reports, residents of the Terai Region, known as madhesis ("midlanders"), constituted some 40 percent of Nepal's population but were severely underrepresented in the army and police. More than 89 percent of the country was Hindu; accordingly, the religious composition of the army was thought to be almost exclusively Hindu, with a smattering of Buddhists. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1991 *]

Even though Nepalese, British, and Indian recruiters competed annually for the best candidates for military service, none of the forces had ever encountered a dearth of recruits. In a population of over 19 million persons, there were about 4.5 million physically fit males between the ages of fifteen and forty-nine available for military service; about 225,000 males annually reached military age, which was eighteen years. In the early 1990s, the army revealed no personnel mobilization plan in the event of war or a declared national emergency, nor was there any known contingency plan to institute conscription during or in anticipation of an emergency. Retired soldiers, however, customarily were regarded as a valuable resource that the government could rely upon during wartime. Over 100,000 military pensioners of the Nepalese, Indian, and British armies resided in Nepal. This group could provide a pool of military personnel in an emergency. All Nepalese service personnel were liable for call-up after retirement.*

The different languages that characterized the social mosaic of Nepalese society posed no formidable obstacle because virtually all soldiers spoke Nepali (referred to in British and Indian regiments as "Gurkhali"). Most officers, because of the higher educational requirements demanded of them, possessed at least a limited knowledge of English. Personnel who aspired to be general officers or to attend military training courses abroad invariably were fluent in English.*

Caste and ethnic differences were minimized by the longstanding policy of assigning recruits from the same area and ethnic groups to the same unit, a policy also practiced in British and Indian Gurkha regiments. Low-caste enlistees often were assigned to service units, whereas officer ranks were staffed largely by upper- caste recruits (primarily Chhetris) and those applicants with long family histories of army service.*

Women played a marginal role in the armed forces in the early 1990s. Professional opportunities for women in Nepal were restricted. A woman's station in life generally was confined to raising children, maintaining the home, and performing agricultural and handicraft labor. A limited number of women served in the armed forces as physicians, nurses, nursing assistants, and parachute packers attached to the para battalion. Pay scales were the same as those of males, although prospects for promotion within the few job categories open to women were limited.*

Recruitment regulations prescribed that qualified candidates for enlistment appear before a selection and recruiting board composed of an officer from the Department of the Adjutant General and four other officers. Candidates were required to be between eighteen and twenty-three years of age, physically fit, and at least 161 centimeters tall. Exceptions were made for honorably discharged former Gurkha soldiers who were under the age of thirty- six, physically fit, and had not been convicted of a criminal offense. Appointment was confirmed only after the candidate's statements regarding residence, age, caste, and address were attested to by the army or civil service. A recruit could be dismissed at any time during the first year of training.*

Soldiers in the Nepalese Army

Upon entering the service, the recruit signed a contract to participate in drills and training prescribed by army regulations and to obey orders wherever he or she might be sent. Enlistment lasted for an initial period of ten years, except for former Gurkhas, who enlisted for three years. All recruits were required to take an oath to protect the life and throne of the king and to arrest or report any person threatening the king. As of 1991, the army had not revised this oath so that recruits also swore to uphold the constitution, as was the practice in many democracies. Military indoctrination at all levels still was closely associated with the defense of the king, who many Nepalese regarded as the reincarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu. Devotion to duty thus carried with it a marked element of religious devotion to the person of the king.*

Military pay scales generally were the same as Nepalese government civilian pay scales. Although they were abysmally low by Western standards, military pay and benefits were quite attractive by Nepalese standards, and military service was highly sought after. Moreover, job security, promotion prospects, and economic attractions offered by military service were virtually unmatched in the small private sector, particularly for applicants with limited education and job skills. Pay scales also included allocations for rations and travel allowances while on duty and en route home during leave periods. Officers received housing, medical and educational benefits, and family allowances that also were attractive by Nepalese standards. Soldiers earned pensions after seventeen years of service; maximum pension benefits could reach 60 percent of a soldier's final pay rate.*

The army maintained a liberal leave policy that contributed to good morale. Leave was of three types: ordinary, home, and sick. The maximum twenty days' annual ordinary leave was not cumulative from year to year. Home leave accrued to soldiers after one year of service at the rate of forty-five days each year. Sick leave of up to fifteen days annually was authorized. Ration and travel allowances were included as part of the leave policy.*

Beyond pay and leave, other factors that contributed to good morale within the ranks included opportunities to acquire an education and job skills — attributes that were transferable to civilian life. Moreover, military service carried with it the prestige of serving in a profession that was highly regarded by most of the Nepalese public.*

The quality of military personnel, particularly within the enlisted ranks, was regarded by most observers as excellent. Nepalese troops are renowned for their toughness, stamina, adaptability to harsh climates and terrain, and willingness to obey orders.*

Because the incidence of infectious diseases was high in the general population, malaria, tuberculosis, syphilis, and dysentery probably were present in any pool of recruits in spite of efforts to screen out the physically unfit before enlistment. In the service, however, medical care, adequate diet, and hygienic measures greatly reduced the incidence of disease, and experience in the varied environments of Asia, Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East has shown that illness in Nepalese units was not a serious problem. As of 1991, there was no indication that the army screened recruits or serving personnel for acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), and there were no publicly revealed statistics citing the of AIDS within the military.*

Training for the Nepalese Military

Before assignment to units, enlistees received almost a year of training under officers and noncommissioned officers specially chosen for this task. The long training period was necessitated by the high illiteracy rate — almost 70 percent nationally — making the recruitment of soldiers with anything beyond a rudimentary education difficult. Many recruits had to be taught elementary skills, such as using a telephone and driving. On the whole, soldiers probably were sufficiently trained for effective guerrilla operations or for combat in small units — the types of warfare most likely to occur. The army supported a number of schools scattered around the country that instructed individual personnel and whole units in specialized skills, such as jungle operations, communications, medicine, and mountain warfare. A limited number of enlisted personnel and noncommissioned officers were sent to India each year for specialized training not offered in Nepal.*

Training for aid-to-civil-power duties, such as riot control, was not covered extensively during the training cycle. The military generally preferred to let the police perform such functions, which most senior officers trained under the British model did not regard as "proper soldiering." That army personnel were, of necessity, becoming better acquainted with police tactics was suggested by the increased use of the army in aid-to-civil-power duties during the riots and protests that rocked the country during the 1990 prodemocracy movement, the massive army deployment to prevent violence during the national elections staged in May 1991, and the peacekeeping experience acquired during service in Lebanon.*

Officer training was modeled on that of the Indian Army. This training, in turn, was strongly influenced by its long association with the British military establishment. An Indian Military Mission arrived in Kathmandu in 1952 soon after an attempted coup to assist in correcting discipline problems and organizational defects. With a staff of 100 personnel commanded by a major general, the mission implemented significant reforms in training, recruitment, promotion, and virtually every aspect of military life. In 1958 the Indian Military Mission was replaced by the Indian Military Training and Advisory Group consisting of twenty officers. This group functioned in Kathmandu until 1963, when it was renamed the Military Liaison Group and its responsibilities were reduced to liaison work on common defense problems. Nepalese nationalists complained, however, that the army's dependence on India for military training and direction was repugnant. Following significant rifts in Indo-Nepalese relations in the late 1960s, the Indian advisory group closed its offices for good. The only Indian military presence in Nepal in 1991 consisted of a defense attaché at the high commission in Kathmandu and Gurkha recruitment centers located at Pokhara and Dharan. The only other countries with defense attachés posted to Kathmandu in 1991 were the United States, Britain, China, the Soviet Union, and Pakistan.*

Although Nepalese officers still were sent to India for a variety of advanced or specialized courses as of 1991, basic officer training for "gentleman" recruits was conducted at the Royal Nepal Military Academy at Kharipati near Kathmandu. Modeled after the Indian Military Academy and Sandhurst, the academy conducted a fifteen-month training course. Classes, usually numbering between 50 and 100 students, were divided into four cadet companies named after famous Nepalese military victories. At the conclusion of training, newly commissioned second lieutenants were assigned to units according to their specialties and the needs of the army.*

Those officers who showed promise for promotion to higher commands competed throughout their careers for highly prized training assignments in the United States, Britain, Germany, India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. Nepalese officers were not known ever to have received military training in the Soviet Union or in East European countries. A handful of army personnel may have gone to China in 1988, however, to train on the air defense guns purchased by Nepal at that time. Chinese military advisers have never been posted to Nepal, owing, in part, to Kathmandu's awareness of India's extreme sensitivity over Chinese activities in the country (see Relations with China).*

Over the years, Nepalese officers have attended the United States Army Command and Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas; the Army War College at Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania; and a number of other military schools and institutions. Most expenses for this training were covered by funds appropriated under the International Military Education Training (IMET) program. The program has been open to Nepalese officers since 1947, when Nepal and the United States exchanged diplomatic recognition.*

Fighting During with the Nepalese Civil War

In February 1996, Maoist rebels calling themselves the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) (CNP(M)) launched a "people's war" against the Nepal government The official government death toll for the conflict, which ended in 2006 and is now known as the Nepalese Civil War, was 16,278. Among the dead were hundreds of police officers and hundred of civilians. The number of Maoist rebel casualties was hard to determine because the rebels carried their dead away from the battlefields. It was difficult to get any kind of information because the areas where fighting took place were so remote and difficult to get to and the movement of journalists was restricted.

Most fighting during the Nepalese Civil War occurred in rural areas and in western districts. Until early 2000, Nepalese police efforts against the CPN(M) were generally uncoordinated. The army became involved in February 2000 and began actively engaging the CPN(M) in November 2001. Government security forces were generally hobbled by a lack of funds, local support, and counterinsurgency experience. the mountainous, forested, generally roadless terrain favored the Maoists’ guerrilla tactics. [Source: Library of Congress, November 2005 **]

Human rights observers and foreign governments have suggested that some government efforts to address the conflict — including the suspension of civil liberties and elected government — have reduced the government’s popular legitimacy and thus have been counterproductive. The Maoists’ attacks on infrastructure reportedly have lowered their popular support, as have accusations of robbery, extortion, and forced recruiting. The CPN(M), however, claims such activities are either unauthorized actions committed by lower-level cadres or are justified to prevent the use of public resources to exploit Nepalese. Peace talks in 2001 and 2003 were unsuccessful. **

Indeed, unarmed civilians have been frequent victims. According to a Nepalese human rights organization, the Informal Service Sector Center, from February 13, 1996, to September 16, 2005, 12,809 persons were killed in the conflict, with 64 percent attributed to security forces, 36 percent to the CPN(M), and 82 percent of all conflict-related deaths occurring since 2002. Of the killings attributed to security forces, most were of actual or suspected members of the CPN(M) or political parties (65 percent) or agricultural workers (15.6 percent). Of the killings attributed to the Maoists, most were of police personnel (28.2 percent), agricultural workers (16.2 percent), army personnel (14.4 percent), or civil servants (11.6 percent). Additionally, 50,356 persons had been displaced by the conflict through 2004. However, these figures include only verified events; actual numbers may be higher. **

It was difficult to estimate the true number of deaths because both sides tended to underestimate their own dead and overestimate the number of deaths of their opponents. The Maoist rebels tended to pull their dead from the battlefield, making their number of dead particularly had to gauge. In a typical report the government claimed it killed 90 Maoist rebels as they attempted to launch a human wave attack on an army camps. In one series of attacks in May 2002, the government announced that it had killed 500 Maoist rebels while losing only three government soldiers.


Former Maoists Join the Nepalese Army

According to the terms of the November 2006 peace accord, the former Maoist rebels were supposed to go to designated camps in part so they could be accounted for, with the aim of rehabilitating them for ordinary life or preparing them to join the Nepalese military. The 27 Maoist camps set up in 2006 were monitored by the United Nations until January 2011 when a government committee took over. About 31,000 rebels were in camps by late February 2007, but the number of weapons that had been turned in was considerably less than the number of former rebels. About some 19,000 Maoist former combatants were living in UN-supervised camps throughout the country as of 2009.

In 2012, large numbers of former Maoist rebels began leaving their camps as part of their transition to normal life. Reporting from Shaktikhor, Gopal Sharma of Reuters wrote: “Former rebels shed their camouflage uniforms and began leaving their camps to join their families in a first step to their reintegration five years after the end of a civil war. The rehabilitation of more than 19,000 former rebels is seen as crucial for the stability. [Source: Gopal Sharma, Reuters, February 4, 2012]

“Authorities began sending home combatants wanting to end their military career and rejoin their families. More than 7,300 fighters are expected to leave the camps within two weeks. This will boost the stalled peace process, but several potential complications lie ahead,” said analyst Bishnu Raj Upreti, who teaches conflict management at Kathmandu University. The Maoists and other political parties agreed in November 2012 to integrate some fighters into the army and provide education, training and financial aid to the rest. Upreti said remaining challenges included decisions on the former rebels’ ranks and training and their new relationship with the army soldiers they fought against in the war.

“Those Maoists wishing to join the army will remain in the camps for now. The military establishment had resisted integrating their former foes, saying they had been indoctrinated. Authorities say the role of the Maoists will be restricted to non-combat operations such as the construction of development projects, emergency rescue operations and patrolling forests. Terms of their joining the army are yet to be agreed upon.”

Rank Structure of the Nepal Military

Royal Nepal Army rank structure was, like most other aspects of military life, a blending of British, Indian, and Nepalese practices. Except for honorary military titles, most commissioned officer ranks were the same as their United States and British equivalents. Exceptions included the titles field marshal (equivalent to the United States general of the armies) and colonel in chief of the army. As of 1991, Nir Shamsher Jang Bahadur Rana was the only field marshal; Crown Prince Dipendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev was the colonel in chief. Nepal's senior officer corps in 1991 numbered one general, five major generals, and about twenty-one brigadier generals. Officers' insignia displayed a variety of symbols; all, however, bore the emblem of the crossed kukri that identified Gurkha soldiers the world over. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1991 *]

Between the commissioned officers and the enlisted ranks was a separate category of junior commissioned officers (JCOs), who acted as a bridge between the officers and their troops. Adapted from the colonial commissioned officer system of the old British Indian Army, JCOs were roughly equivalent to United States Army warrant officers (although few JCOs were skilled technicians). JCOs were selected from noncommissioned officer ranks and advanced through a three-tier ranking system (jamadar, subedar, and subedar major). At the bottom of the military hierarchy were the "other ranks" (commonly referred to as ORs). These included several ranks of noncommissioned officers, sepahis (or, the Anglo-Indian corruption, "sepoys") and jawans, who together made up the bulk of the army. Although the lowest army ranks had their equivalents in the Brigade of Gurkhas and the colonial successor armies of India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, the Royal Nepalese Army maintained a distinct nomenclature not found anywhere else.*

Military Justice in Nepal

The military court system consisted basically of courtsmartial , similar in composition and jurisdiction to those of the Indian Army. Courts-martial were of four kinds: general, district, summary general, and summary. A general court-martial was convened by the king or an officer deputized by him. It consisted of five or more officers, each with three or more years of commissioned service. Attending the court, but not a member, was an officer of the Department of the Judge Advocate General or an officer designated by the judge advocate general. The court was authorized to impose any sentence prescribed by army regulations. A district court-martial consisted of three or more officers, each with a minimum of three years of commissioned service, and could impose any sentence other than the death penalty. A summary general courtmartial consisted of three or more officers, with no requirement as to the length of their commissioned service. A summary courtmartial was convened by an officer of the rank of battalion commander or above, who acted as the court. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1991 *]

The death sentence, banned in civilian cases under the 1990 constitution, was imposed for treason, mutiny, desertion, inciting panic, and surrender of troops, arms, or garrisons to the enemy with a finding of cowardice. Authorized punishment for dereliction of military duties or regulations in time of war generally was twice as severe as that prescribed for the same offense committed in peacetime. Contact with foreign diplomats and attachés, however innocuous, was strictly forbidden. A few high-ranking officers in army headquarters were allowed to interact with foreigners but only on official matters. Failure to observe this rule could damage a soldier's promotion prospects or lead to disciplinary action.*

The disciplinary powers of officers and noncommissioned officers were more extensive than in the United States military service. Unit commanders could impose up to thirty days' confinement in prison or restriction to barracks. The most common forms of company punishment included extra guard duty, suspension from duty or from supervisory assignments, fines of up to fourteen days' pay, detention of pay until a financial or property loss was compensated, reprimand, and warning. Junior commanders could demote officers with the rank of hudda (sergeant) or lower.*

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Nepal Tourism Board (, Nepal Government National Portal (, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Wikipedia and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated February 2022

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