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Betrayal in the shadows? UK Special Forces block Afghan allies’ safe haven

In a troubling revelation, BBC Panorama has exposed how UK Special Forces impeded Afghan troops, who had risked their lives alongside them, from seeking refuge in the UK after the Taliban’s resurgence. This report unveils a scenario of betrayal and abandonment faced by elite Afghan units, notably CF 333 and ATF 444, derogatorily dubbed the “Triples,” now living in danger of Taliban reprisals.

As Afghanistan fell into Taliban hands in August 2021, these Afghan Special Forces, who had played pivotal roles in high-risk operations with their British counterparts, have found their applications for the UK’s Afghan Relocation and Assistance Policy (Arap) scheme repeatedly ejected. These rejections came despite substantial evidence of their collaboration, leaving many to face dangerous consequences, including torture or death at the hands of the Taliban.

The leaked documents and internal communications reviewed by Panorama and Lighthouse Reports point to a controversial policy where Special Forces had veto power over these applications, often leading to automatic rejections without further scrutiny. This arrangement has drawn criticism for its potential conflict of interest, especially as the UK’s ‘Independent Inquiry relating to Afghanistan‘ into alleged war crimes in Afghanistan gains momentum—a probe that these Afghan veterans could significantly inform.

Prominent voices within the British military community have criticised this policy, highlighting it as a stark conflict of interest that could be perceived as an attempt to obscure the truth. The implications are grave, with Afghan commandos, who once stood shoulder to shoulder with the SAS, now left to fend for themselves against the very threat they combated.

The report shares stories of these commandos, who, despite their service, find themselves in hiding, separated from their families, and living in fear. Their testimonies not only recount their contributions but also underscore a profound sense of betrayal as the promises of support and safety from their British allies remain unfulfilled.

The Ministry of Defence has responded to these allegations by announcing a review of the rejected applications. However, the systemic issues highlighted by this investigation raise significant concerns about the integrity of the support system for Afghan allies and the moral obligations of the UK to those who have served alongside its forces.

This case not only questions the UK’s commitment to its Afghan partners but also reflects the broader challenges faced by interpreters, soldiers, and support staff from conflict zones seeking safety in countries they served alongside. It underscores the need for transparency, accountability, and a reevaluation of policies that currently leave brave individuals in perilous limbo, despite their sacrifices for shared goals.

Iain Overton, Executive Director of Action on Armed Violence, said of the report: “As the UK undertakes this critical review, the eyes of the world, and more importantly, the hopes of many Afghan veterans, rest on a promise of justice and recognition that their service and sacrifices will not be forgotten. The resolution of this issue will not only affect those directly involved but will also serve as a testament to the values and principles that guide international cooperation and support for allies in conflict zones.”