Gurkhas in action with KFOR in Kosovo

Some 485 soldiers of Folkestone based 1st Battalion Royal Gurkha Rifles (1RGR) and attachments from 16 Air Assault Brigade have been taking part in OPREH in Kosovo working in close partnership with KFOR and NATO allies.

British forces have played a key role throughout the Balkan region since the early 1990s when the breakup of the former Yugoslavia resulted in a series of separate ethnic conflicts, wars of independence and insurgencies. 

“Rehearsing the deployment of equipment and personnel and the challenging training we have conducted alongside NATO partners, has demonstrated our readiness to fulfil our role.” Commanding Officer 1RGR, Lieutenant Colonel Ed Oldfield

During the Balkan wars British Forces operated as peacekeepers in what is now Croatia and Bosnia & Herzegovina under the United Nations Peacekeeping Force (UNPROFOR) mandate until 1995. During this period 72 British armed forces personnel gave their lives helping to bring stability to the region.

Fast forward 26 years to 2021 and British forces continue to be committed to this region because there still remains work to be done. Both the United Kingdom and our European partners will undoubtedly benefit from a secure, stable and prosperous Western Balkans.

Today our involvement in the Balkans, or more specifically Kosovo, is as a member of KFOR (Kosovo Force) the NATO led international peace support operation. The initial objectives were to deter any possible renewed hostilities; however, more recently KFOR’s main goal is to continue to foster a safe and secure environment.

OPREH is the abbreviation of Operational Rehearsal and that is exactly what it is a rehearsal or demonstration of just how effective our troops are at rapidly surging en-masse into a region in support of our allies. In this case it was 485 Gurkha soldiers of 1RGR who deployed to Kosovo to join up with KFOR and NATO allies from 6 other countries; Turkey, Italy, Greece, Bulgaria, Albania and North Macedonia.

Speaking of his battalion’s recent deployment the Commanding Officer of 1RGR, Lieutenant Colonel Ed Oldfield said; “1 RGR is held at readiness as the Strategic Response Force for NATO’s mission in Kosovo. That mission sees us being prepared to deploy to Kosovo to help ensure a safe and secure environment for the Kosovan people. This operational rehearsal is key to the preparation of the Battalion. Rehearsing the deployment of equipment and personnel and the challenging training we have conducted alongside NATO partners, has demonstrated our readiness to fulfil our role.”

In essence OPREH is a convincing validation of the UK’s commitment to conduct routine operations and exercise across the face of Europe, from its centre and the Balkans across to the Black Sea; in so doing it proves the ability to further develop interoperability and improve capability. OPREH also provides a potent reminder to any adversary who would wish to take advantage of a region that is in a state of transformation; 485 highly trained Gurkhas can have quite a subduing effect.