Gurkhas Don 'RoboCop' Gear For Riot Training With NATO Allies In Kosovo

The training is part of 'KFOR' – the peace support mission NATO has been running since the end of the Kosovo War.

The First Battalion Royal Gurkha Rifles have been carrying out riot and crowd control training in Kosovo as part of NATO's peace support operation in the region. 

They've been training with Italian, Latvian, Slovenian, Turkish, US and many other allied troops.

'KFOR' is the peace support mission NATO has been running since 1999 at the end of the Kosovo War.

The First Battalion Royal Gurkha Rifles are NATO's Strategic Reserve Force for its mission in Kosovo, meaning they are held at high readiness to deploy anywhere they are needed.

The training carried out by the Gurkhas and the overall contribution to KFOR demonstrates the UK's commitment to ensure stability in the Western Balkans.

Major Tim Cummings, Officer Commanding B Company, 1 Royal Gurkha Rifles, told Forces News: "The first response in any situation will be the Kosovo police under the institution of Kosovo and then the in-place forces from NATO."

The strategic reserve force will be called forward if the situation deteriorates to an extent where more forces are required.

The First Battalion Royal Gurkha Rifles' training base in Kosovo (Picture: MOD).

The first battalion, the Royal Gurkha Rifles, is currently held on readiness for a 12-month period.

Major Cummings continued: "We'll be here – to assist with any problems from crowd and riot control all the way up to kinetic operations if required."

Working with other nations is a huge part of the training as NATO’s Kosovo Forces is made up of roughly 3,500 troops from 27 countries including the UK.

Major Pete Houlton-Hart, Battalion Second In Command for the First Battalion, The Royal Gurkha Rifles said: "Deploying out here, it's giving us a great opportunity to integrate with the other NATO troop-contributing nations who are already in KFOR and also who have other over-the-horizon forces that have come out for the op rehearsal too.

"It gets us to understand the lay of the ground and the culture and basically allow us to be more effective should we be called on, in reality."

Soldiers from First Battalion Royal Gurkha Rifles and the Multinational Specialized Unit, a section of the Italian Carabinieri.

As part of the training, the Gurkhas have shown their crowd control drills to the Multinational Specialized Unit (MSU), a section of the Italian Carabinieri, dedicated to the military missions abroad  – so if they work together in the future they can do so more smoothly.

The public order equipment they use is known informally as 'RoboCop gear'.

It protects from head to toe with a toe protector, shin guards, thigh guards, groin protector and then moving up into the upper limbs, there are wrist guards, upper arm protectors, shoulder guards, and then the body armour that is worn as standard.

On top, they have helmets, a mandible to protect the jaw, and a visor.

Soldiers also wear a flame retardant coverall to protect against petrol bombers.  

Major Cummings said: "An understanding of our different types of equipment, our different types of techniques and procedures, is important because when we're called to operate together we can understand differences.

Soldiers from First Battalion Royal Gurkha Rifles in their public order equipment.

"For example, in rules of engagement, the Italian MSU will use CS gas, whereas we don't.

"Both of us would use batons… an understanding of the differences and similarities will help us to operate more effectively together in the future.”

There are some in the 1st Battalion Royal Gurkha Rifles who were also in Kosovo during the war 1998-99, such as Major Babindra Gurung.

He is now the 1st Battalion's Battlegroup Logistic Officer.

"I was here in theatre in 1999 when the conflict happened," he told Forces News.

"Then I was a very young Lance Corporal in 1999, I deployed in a different scenario in a different role.

"Yes, I can see lots of changes around the country, now the country is in a better place."