Siliguri, March 24: Echoes of the war in Iraq are reverberating in the hills of Darjeeling and Nepal.
Home to Gorkha soldiers with the British army, now engaged in a hi-tech battle with Saddam Hussein’s low-tech army, the hill residents wait with bated breath to hear from their relations, who are part of the coalition forces invading the West Asian country.
Amol Rai, with the British army for the last six years, called up a relative in Kurseong three months ago before he left for Kuwait. “It’s going to be a fierce war. No one knows what will be the outcome,” he told the family member, who did not want the soldier’s real name published.
The doughty Gorkhas, known for their fierce loyalty to the British army, are now rolling through Iraqi deserts in armoured vehicles, taking out pockets of resistance.
The relatives, concerned about the safety of their kin facing stiff resistance from Saddam’s spirited soldiers, are anxious to hear from them. But news is often the first casualty of a war, more so when the combined might of the US and Britain is taking on the Iraqi dictator, said to possess weapons of mass destruction.
“It is impossible to get to them by phone when they are on the battlefield. So, there is nothing we can do, but pray for them,” said Suman Tamang, cousin of a Gorkha serviceman. “Even if you get to speak to them at times, they won’t tell you anything except that they are doing just fine.”
With no information trickling out of the theatre of war, Tamang said the family members are on edge. Many of them now sit glued to cable channels, trying to catch the latest on the war front.
“It’s futile to sit around expecting news about them. You never get any official communication except when the worst has happened,” another relative said. “Television is our only source of news.”
Much before the war broke out, the British army cancelled all leaves of the soldiers, including the Gorkhas vacationing in Nepal and Darjeeling. They were asked to report immediately.
A Gorkha lieutenant, who hails from Kalimpong, has already informed his family members that he would not be able to come home in May on his biannual leave.
“An estimated 3,500 British-Gorkhas have been employed in the British army. Most of them belong to the Gorkha regiment of the British army,” Anod Thapa, a retired serviceman with the British army, said.
Thapa said the British army usually had Gorkha soldiers serving in the transport, signal and the engineering divisions. “But we don’t know for sure the number of Gorkha infantrymen pressed into the second Gulf War.”
Baudhi Man Subba, another retired serviceman, said Gorkha soldiers were also part of the British commando forces. Family members of the soldiers griped that the British army reduced the duration of their training of the new Gorkha recruits.
They said the Gorkha soldiers, recruited in the British army just one month ago, told their relatives back home that they had already completed the jungle warfare training. “The training should not be so short,” a relative said.