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200 Afghan ex-special forces who worked with British military denied relocation to UK: BBC

LONDON: About 200 former Afghan special forces whose anti-Taliban operations with Britain’s military were “incredibly important” have been denied relocation to the UK, the BBC reported on Monday.

A further 32 former government officials, as well as a number of civilian leaders who aided Britain’s mission in the country, have also been denied by the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Programme.

The former soldiers’ “abandonment” by the UK government has been labeled a “betrayal” and “disgrace” by senior British military figures, including Gen. Richard Barrons, who served in Afghanistan for more than a decade.

He told the BBC that the UK’s failure to relocate the former soldiers “is a disgrace, because it reflects that either we’re duplicitous as a nation or incompetent.”

Barrons added: “It is a betrayal, and the cost of that betrayal will be people who served with us will die or spend their lives in prison.”

The UK’s then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson in 2021 described the work of the former Afghan special forces as “incredibly important.”

Britain set up two major units composed of elite Afghan soldiers in an effort to combat opium production and the Taliban presence in Afghanistan.

Commando Force 333, and its sister unit, Afghan Territorial Force 444, were known as “the Triples,” and “quickly gained a reputation for effectiveness, honesty and courage,” the BBC reported.

One of the former CF333 members, known as Ali, described being “abandoned and betrayed” by the UK after spending “day and night” together with British soldiers.

He added: “During training we slept under one tent, eating from the same dish. During operations we fought shoulder-to-shoulder with the British, as members of one family.”

During the evacuation from Kabul in August 2021, Ali oversaw the protection of British passport holders as they left the country on emergency flights.

But he was denied entry on the same flights, and eventually fled to Pakistan by land out of fear of reprisal attacks from Afghanistan’s new Taliban rulers.

“We never thought that heroes would be abandoned. We took all those risks. We were ready to help the international community, we respected freedom of speech and human life, then everything turned upside down. It is really disappointing,” he said.

Figures compiled by a network of Afghan veterans, seen by the BBC, show that there are up to 200 other former soldiers in the same position as Ali. Their applications to Britain’s ARAP scheme have faced delays or rejection.

Civilian leaders who helped Britain’s mission in Afghanistan have also been denied by the scheme.

Among them is Mohammad Fahim, a former governor of Helmand province’s Garmsir district, a key Taliban stronghold before 2001.

Despite working “shoulder-to-shoulder” with Britain, he says he was “betrayed” and “never thought that I would be left alone like this.”

He added: “We arrested a number of Taliban leaders when I was governor. They knew that we were fighting together with the international forces, so the threat to me is real.

“We ran programmes shoulder-to-shoulder, with the shared aim of bringing security for the people who lived in Helmand, giving them a good life and making peace.”

His work to counter the Taliban presence in his district resulted in the murder of his brother and two cousins, and in 2018 Fahim was almost beaten to death.

Barrons said: “I’m personally ashamed because I feel very deeply that we made an obligation to them and we have not fulfilled it.

“It’s beyond absurd to say they don’t qualify and that they should be left behind to a fate at the hands of the Taliban.”

Lt. Gen. Abdul Hadi Khalid, former first commanding officer of CF333, said Britain’s treatment of the Triples will diminish the country’s standing in the region.

He added: “I’m 100 percent sure that when other nations, other progressive forces, see Afghanistan, when they look at Afghan people, Afghan miseries, how can they trust the West?”

In response to the BBC’s reporting, a UK Ministry of Defense spokesman said: “So far, we have brought around 24,600 people to safety, including thousands of people eligible for our Afghan schemes.

“Each ARAP application is assessed individually and in accordance with published policy, and we do not automatically make a decision on eligibility based on a job role.”

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