President Barack Obama expressed the commitment to help in the earthquake-devastated Nepal saying, “Our friends need America’s help. We are ready for that…and even greater risk or greater sacrifices”. He said this during a tribute program of 6 Marines & 2 Nepalese soldiers, who lost their lives in a UH-1Y Huey helicopter crash on May 12 relief mission for the earthquake survivors.
During the tribute program, President Obama praised the effort by the Marine Forces for their commendable jobs on the ground under humanitarian aid effort. US Marine rescued several victims and ferried the injured as well as dropped significant humanitarian supplies in the most affected areas. President Obama renewed commitment for Nepal demonstrating their global leadership capability notwithstanding the location or distance. The devastating earthquake on April 25 hit Nepal claiming thousands of lives and devastating physical infrastructure in Kathmandu and elsewhere.
Earlier, Secretary of State, John Kerry had announced U.S. support for earthquake response and recovery. The assistance totaled around $47 million, including USAID $32.5 million, Department of Defense $14.3 & U.S. Department of Justice – $1.7 million. The U.S. immediately sent their Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Nisha Biswal to assess the relief effort and future recovery needs.
Furthermore, U.S. Ambassador to Nepal, Peter W. Bodde and the Minister spent most of the time on the ground along with the support mission. Ambassador Bodde met with almost all concerned parties, government and security personal to encourage them and expressed U.S. assistance. A senior U.S. Embassy officer in Kathmandu told me, “We used our all-out assistance effort to accomplish primary rescue & relief responsibilities but our priority still is to support post-disaster relief as much as Nepal needs.” He added, “Our aid effort is purely humanitarian not aimed at rivalry or strategic purpose.”
Well Connected Army
U.S. Army has a long-standing all-weather relationship with Nepal Army (NA). Since 1965, the U.S. started Military Education and Training Program for NA. Around 600 soldiers have been formally trained. America supported in the NA’s effort during the July 1993 flood disaster in Nepal. Formal defense diplomacy is running normally but their ties extended during the insurgency (1996-2006) period when Nepal faced critical security challenges and U.S. on post 9/11 aggressive war on terror campaign in South Asia. Pacific command had sent a special team to Nepal to assess army’s need as well as combat format structure. They made an overall assessment of the NA and provided special suggestions.
In January, 2002, Colin Powell paid a visit to Nepal for the first time as a Secretary of State after 54 years of relationship between the two countries. The U.S. showed their support for Nepal Army in the most difficult times in modern history. He went directly to Nepal Army’s headquarters from the airport to discuss support. Nepal Army gave a rare ‘Guard of Honor’ to him despite unpracticed Nepali norms. Powell’s Kathmandu visit came at a time when the Maoist insurgency was at its peak and a state of emergency imposed.
A retired Bridger General who was in-charge of military intelligence during the insurgency period recalled the past ties with the U.S. military: “When the Maoist guerrillas first attacked on Nepal army barracks in Dang in November 2001, U.S. was the first foreign county which showed immediate concern. The United States Pacific Command was the first foreign force who assured us support to combat operation, even USPACOM immediately started their assessment mission.”
During the Maoist insurgency, the U.S. Embassy in Kathmandu had extensive contact with almost top Nepalese Army officials & the entire topmost security apparatus. After the Maoist killed 2 embassy guards in 2001 and even bombed the American Centre in Kathmandu in 2004, the U.S. considered the Maoists not only as the biggest foreign policy threat but also dragged the American aggressive approach against such groups.
During the insurgency period, the US suggested formulation of ‘unified command’ structure to fight against Maoist guerrillas by coordinating with all security organs – Nepal Army, Armed Police Force, Nepal Police and National Intelligence department. The effective counter-insurgency operations included training, reforming the command structure, formation of the fast battle unit as well as facilitating to procure modern M16 rifles.
NA bought 21 thousand modern M16 rifles to replace SLR. A recently retired Brigadier General, who was the defense attaché to coordinate U.S. military support from Washington told me, “Nepal’s issue was a priority in Washington not only to the government or the military and intelligence, equally concerned were the Congress members.”
Since the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in November 2006, the U.S. had a very tough and balanced invisible role in Nepal. It supported the NA’s professional integrity, peace & reconciliation. The Embassy in Kathmandu partially removed visa restrictions on the Maoist political leadership but sanctions were in place. The U.S. continuously put pressure on the Maoist leadership to follow the “rule of law and peace process”.
After the end of Nepal’s monarchy in 2008, the Nepal Army was under intensive pressure. The leadership seemed fragile following Maoist penetration. The NA had high hopes from the U.S. The Maoist emerged as the largest party in the CA elections (2008) & led the coalition government. The U.S. extended flexible and conditional support to the Maoist-led government despite the fact that the Maoists were in the list of terror. U.S. pressure to dissolve the notorious Young Communist League (YCL) and conclusion of the peace process were successful.
Nepal Army to woo the support due to the Maoist-led government’s continued controversial moves against the institution. U.S. had similar perspective they suspected Maoist – guerilla turn to government power in a hurry to take control of the army chain of command to capture the state power.
Despite widespread internal and international criticism, in May 3, 2009, the Maoist government removed the Army Chief accusing him of defying its orders. While President reinstated the sacked Army Chief, a new government was formed. The United States supported the move. One retired NA chief confirmed: “U.S. supported us, consulted the situation and expressed the commitment for army integrity during the transition. They also played a constructive role for our institution. So far as I know, they were in extensive touch with the opposition parties during the period.”
Despite the fact that the U.S. focused on peace process and socio-economic dimension after the post insurgency, they carefully maintained smooth relationship with the NA. The U.S. continued to provide aid, assistance and training to the NA. Extensive training, discussion and exchange visits on peace process, civil military relation, leadership related included almost all sphere of the society. In 2009, U.S. started active Disaster Risk Reduction program for NA and Nepal Police. The events include rescue training, awareness & risks reduction.
Only in September 2012 (after 9 years in the terror list), the U.S. government removed the Maoist from the list of global terrorist groups after their leader expressed the commitment to conclude the peace & reconciliation process. During that time, the Maoist had already accepted the NA proposal by integrating a very few number of their guerrillas in NA. The continued US pressure on the Maoist helped in transforming the former guerillas into political force and later accepting the NA integration proposal.
The U.S. support for NA has continued in different defense programs especially in the International Military Education Training program as well as Foreign Military Financing program. U.S. Pacific Command’s Global Peace Operations Initiative (GPOI) continues fund training and assistance for Nepal’s peacekeepers. Four years before, the U.S. provided 10 armored Humvees for NA peacekeepers in UNMID in Sudan. Similarly, the U.S. has assisted NA in the disaster relief equipment & training for enhanced disaster response, especially during earthquakes and floods. Likewise, U.S. Defense Institution Reform Initiative program helps in enhancing civilian-military relations and democratic institution’s control over military.
One NA Major General told me: “US has been a balanced and productive power for Nepal. Its strong presence will serve the Nepalese interest and of course, national security. We need to strength our military relationship with the U.S. This relief support is highly appreciated and will further strength our military relationship. The Nepal Army hopes that the deep contact between the two will remain intact that will help in furthering the bilateral relationship.”