Nepali guards were a benign presence in tough Afghanistan. Now they’re being targeted.

Afghan police inspect the site of a suicide attack in Kabul on Monday. (Rahmat Gul/AP)
For years, Nepali uniformed guards at foreign embassies and compounds across Kabul have been a polite, low-key presence in the gritty Afghan capital, which has been toughened by decades of conflict and is teeming with swaggering gunmen. The guards, all Buddhists or Hindus, often greet familiar visitors with a traditional gesture, bowing slightly with palms raised and pressed together, as they monitor X-ray machines and entryways.On Monday morning, several of them were killed when a suicide bomber targeted a minibus carrying guards across the city from a fortified dormitory compound to their posts at the Canadian Embassy. The attack occurred just one month after a Nepali guard was fatally shot by an Afghan guard at a U.N. compound in Kabul, reportedly in a dispute.

But it was the first time that Nepali forces, known informally as Gurkhas, had been targeted by insurgent gunmen or bombers since the Kathmandu government began sending them to guard international facilities in support of the Western-backed government in Kabul that replaced extremist Taliban rulers in 2002.

“Many people died,” Amrit Rokaya Chhetri, a Nepali guard who was wounded in the attack, told the Associated Press as he lay in a hospital bed, his head covered in bandages. “I say to my family, I am okay, and I will come home.”

At least 14 Nepali and Indian security guards were killed in the attack. Five Nepalis and four Afghans were wounded, the Interior Ministry said.

No combat troops from Nepal have been among the foreign forces deployed to Afghanistan by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and its allies, but the government in Kathmandu has provided hundreds of them to help guard compounds and perform other routine armed duties, through contracts with foreign governments.

Nepal also provides thousands of peacekeepers for U.N. missions in some of the world’s most dangerous places. This year, it has stationed more than 4,300 peacekeepers in 15 countries, including Haiti, South Sudan, Syria and Congo. Nepal is the fifth-largest provider of U.N. peacekeeping forces, after Ethiopia, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Contributing governments are paid substantial annual fees for sending troops and police for U.N. operations.

Last month, Nepali forces were left to protect U.N. staffers in Libya, which has been devastated by conflict since the 2011 toppling and death of dictator Moammar Gaddafi, when the Italian government dropped plans to send several thousand troops there. News reports from Italy said that instead, Nepali peacekeeping troops would be sent in to bolster the U.N. Support Mission in Libya. Nepal is still recovering from a devastating earthquake one year ago.

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In some cases, the forces have ended up inadvertently harming or engendering resentment among the civilians they are supposed to protect.
In Congo, Nepali peacekeepers have been accused of being too passive in the face of violent threats to peace. Nepali forces make up a majority of the 20,000 troops deployed there to maintain order amid civil war and militia violence. But local critics have called them “helicopter tourists” who fly over conflict zones and stand guard along roads but often fail to intervene when militias attack villages. In 2014, Human Rights Watch castigated the U.N. operation in Congo for failing to respond to an attack that killed 30 people.

In Haiti, Nepali troops were accused of being the source of a cholera epidemic in 2010 that killed 8,000 people and sickened hundreds of thousands. The peacekeepers had been sent there as part of a U.N. disaster-response team to keep order after a massive earthquake.

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