The British Army, which has been hiring Nepali Gurkha soldiers for more than 200 years, is planning to recruit female soldiers from Nepal in its Brigade of Gurkhas, The Sunday Times reported.
Around 50 Nepali women took part in army fitness tests as part of a Ministry of Defence pilot in 2007, but recruitment to the brigade remained closed to them.
The first female Gurkhas could arrive in the UK for infantry training in spring 2020, according to the report. The move is part of the British Army plan to boost the 3,000-strong Brigade of Gurkhas by an additional 800 troops in an attempt to plug a shortfall of more than 5,500 troops. Quoting a well-placed source, the Times reported that the new recruitments would include a new infantry battalion and new units of engineers and communications experts.
Britain first began recruiting Gurkhas in 1815, with the Nepali soldiers fighting in both world wars and more recently in Iraq and Afghanistan. Prince Harry served with the Royal Gurkha Rifles, the brigade’s infantry regiment, as a forward air controller in Afghanistan during the winter of 2007-08.
The British Army recruits around 250 men from Nepal each year. Candidates face gruelling fitness tests, including carrying a load of sand up a steep, five-kilometre course in less than 48 minutes. However, fitness requirements would not be relaxed for women, according to the report. Gavin Williamson, the defence secretary, said this weekend, “The Gurkhas are renowned as one of the best fighting forces in the world with a proud history of serving Her Majesty, and it is right that women have the opportunity to serve in this elite group.”