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20 Feb, 2024 13:04

Afghans who fought with Brits blocked from UK resettlement – BBC

The move could reportedly prevent witnesses of alleged UK wrongdoing from giving evidence
Afghans who fought with Brits blocked from UK resettlement – BBC

British special forces have intervened to reject applications by elite Afghan troops to resettle in the UK, despite evidence that they fought alongside them in operations against the Taliban, a report by the BBC has claimed.

There are concerns among UK special forces that Afghans could be asked to provide evidence in an inquiry into alleged wrongdoing by UK forces during the Afghanistan war, the outlet reported, citing an anonymous source.

The allegation, which came as part of a report by state broadcaster the BBC’s Panorama program on Monday, claims that British special forces were effectively given veto power over Afghan relocation applications, leading to concerns that hundreds of veterans face an uncertain future and possible reprisals from the Taliban.

The UK Armed Forces minister, James Heappey, told parliament earlier this month that a review of around 2,000 applications would be conducted, after acknowledging that the initial process was “not robust.” A Ministry of Defence (MoD) review would come alongside a public inquiry into alleged wrongdoing by UK special forces in Afghanistan, sparking concerns of a possible conflict of interest.

“At a time when certain actions by UK special forces are under investigation by a public inquiry, their headquarters also had the power to prevent Afghan special forces colleagues and potential witnesses to these actions from getting safely to the UK,” an anonymous former British special forces member told the BBC.

It has been claimed that 80 civilians were illegally killed by British special forces in Helmand province between 2010 and 2013. Afghan military personnel situated in the UK could theoretically be asked to provide evidence on their conduct in the ongoing inquiry.

Afghan units who accompanied British special forces in “meaningful roles” during operations in the war in Afghanistan are eligible to apply for UK resettlement under the Afghan Relocation and Assistance Policy (ARAP) scheme.

However, citing leaked documents, the BBC said that “hundreds” have had their applications rejected. The outlet also noted that “dozens” of Afghan troops have been tortured or killed by the Taliban since the group seized power in August 2021.

Another former soldier added to the BBC: “At best it’s not appropriate, at worst it looks like they’re trying to cover their tracks.” 

The public inquiry will hear evidence on Tuesday from former British army officer and current UK Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, Johnny Mercer, who is expected to state that war crimes allegations against UK troops are credible.

Previously, the inquiry had heard allegations of Afghan civilians being fatally shot in their sleep during raids in 2011 and 2012 as part of a broader policy of “executing Afghan males of a fighting age” even if they posed no immediate danger.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Defence said it is conducting a “case-by-case review” of Afghan relocation applications, adding that it will “consider all available evidence” while doing so.