Shamed ministers are set to offer sanctuary to more interpreters living under a Taliban death sentence in Afghanistan following unprecedented criticism by military chiefs.
They are considering flying some translators to the UK so their applications can be decided here – and they are ready to widen the definition of who is deemed vulnerable.
In an open letter to the Prime Minister, more than 40 senior officers warned Britain faced ‘dishonour’ if translators who served with UK troops are left to be murdered.
In a broadside which shocked the Ministry of Defence, furious former top brass demanded an overhaul of the Afghan Relocation and Assistance Programme, or ARAP, after it rejected 500 cases in three months, including applications by 130 interpreters.
Pictured is Former frontline interpreter Musa, who has been rejected for relocation. His father was attacked and beaten because of Musa’s work
Seven coalition translators are thought to have been murdered by the militants this year and, following the controversial pull out of Western military forces, the Taliban is quickly tightening its grip on the country.
Within hours of the letter being released, stunned defence officials held emergency meetings to discuss new plans to save Afghan workers facing Taliban reprisals.
The Daily Mail, which has highlighted the plight of the translators with our Betrayal of The Brave campaign, has learned the Government could give fresh hope to Afghans whose applications have been blocked because their service was terminated.
In cases where the reason for their dismissal is disputed – often due to a lack of evidence – these interpreters may be flown to the UK ‘on spec’ where their cases will be studied in more detail. Those with valid applications will be granted approval to remain in this country, while others will be flown back to Afghanistan.
Pictured is Mohammad, father of ex-interpreter Musa, who was beaten by the Taliban
Retired Major General Charlie Herbert, a former Commander of British Forces in Helmand and Nato advisor, and one of the signatories to the letter, told the Mail yesterday of the unique bond his soldiers share with their former translators
More than 1,000 interpreters – 35 per cent of the total – had their service terminated, effectively severing the UK’s commitment to them. Many of them have seen their applications rejected, more than once in some cases.
New plans discussed yesterday by senior defence officials in Whitehall include easing the rules which have led to so many cases being rejected by the ARAP scheme.
These include the need for translators and other Locally Employed Civilians to prove their ‘exposed role’ with UK Forces left them vulnerable to attack by the Taliban.
But this can be difficult, often because paperwork confirming the nature of their employment is missing. The British Embassy in Kabul, which administers ARAP, is also short-staffed, leading to delays and clerical errors dealing with the huge caseload.
Last night, a defence source said: ‘The Government is clearly getting rattled about this. The ARAP policy isn’t doing its job. The scheme was only revamped in May and we thought it would work smoothly after that.
‘But since then 500 cases have been rejected, including 130 translators, because the qualification criteria are so mean-spirited. The service chiefs’ letter has triggered public outcry and this is no longer a niche defence issue. This is now about government competence.
Taliban beat my dad with a rifle butt… because I helped the UK
By Defence Editor
For Musa, the call by Britain’s military top brass to help more former translators yesterday presented, he said, a glimmer of hope.
The 35-year-old former supervisor for interpreters is one of those that the senior officers want to help after he was refused sanctuary in the UK because he had been dismissed after nearly four years on the frontline.
‘This gives us hope that at last justice will be done and we will no longer be threatened by insurgents, who want me dead,’ the father of six said. ‘It is beyond doubt that Afghanistan is more dangerous than ever and we are paying a dreadful price for our support for the British – and so are our families.’
Musa said that his father Mohammad, 51, had been attacked last month by the Taliban while working in maize fields near the family’s rural home in Paktia Province.
‘A Taliban patrol came looking for me,’ he said. ‘My father was in the field and they asked him for me by name but he said that he did not know where I was.
‘But there are many Taliban spies in the village and another man said he had seen me recently with my father – the Taliban took him and beat him with the butt of a Kalashnikov so he was unconscious and his head was split open.
‘This is the second time that he has been beaten and it is because everyone knows I worked with the British Army against the insurgents.’
Musa, who said he was dismissed because one of the interpreters under his supervision lied and refused to work, added: ‘I have received many death threats. I try to keep a low profile but it is impossible. I was in a market and a man pointed at me saying: “He is the spy of the infidel”. I had to run.
‘Nowhere is safe for me. Nowhere is safe for my family. The Taliban even want us to surrender our young girls for their fighters to marry and enjoy.
‘I have applied again to the British for help and hope that now they may finally rescue us, otherwise I fear we will be killed.’
His claims are mirrored by other translators – two this year have told this newspaper’s Betrayal of the Brave campaign how their fathers were murdered by insurgents looking for them. Children have also been murdered and kidnapped.
‘So ministers are prepared to move again on this and widen the reach of the ARAP scheme, which is a jolly good thing considering these Afghans and their families are living in terror.’
More than 1,400 Afghans and their families have already relocated to the UK, and hundreds more received funding for education and training. ‘Freedom flights’ have recently arrived at UK airports with the Afghan workers and their families celebrating their safety and the chance of a new life in the UK.
But the further changes to ARAP now under consideration received a sceptical response from interpreters who remain trapped in Afghanistan. Last night, former translator supervisor Rafi Hottak, who campaigns for his former colleagues, said: ‘There were more than 1,000 terminated and the vast majority would dispute their cases. Many have been denied even the reason for termination, while in other cases translators believed they verbally resigned yet were put down as dismissed. Would they qualify?’
Mr Hottak, who was blown up on the frontline, said: ‘There is a danger that it will be just window dressing and two or three or ten cases will be allowed and the rest will remain facing the same threat and bitter about their cases.’
Retired Major General Charlie Herbert, a former Commander of British Forces in Helmand and Nato advisor, and one of the signatories to the letter, told the Mail yesterday of the unique bond his soldiers share with their former translators.
He said: ‘I simply could not have done my job as an embedded advisor to the Afghan Army without these interpreters and we shared the same risks, sacrifices and challenges. It is a simple truth that there is no stronger friendship than one bound forever by ordeals shared together in war.
‘Over multiple deployments, we lived and fought alongside our Afghan colleagues, sharing their risks and sacrifices and learning to understand their hopes and dreams and fears for the future. Leaving behind those former interpreters and staff who supported us so importantly is plain wrong. It would speak ill of our values and standards as a nation.
‘The threat to these former staff simply cannot be overestimated. Many interpreters have been killed by the Taliban already, and we know of some who have already had a death sentence imposed upon them by the Taliban shadow government.’
In their letter, the UK service chiefs, including former Army head Lord Dannatt and Special Forces commander Brigadier Ed Butler, who commanded the first British brigade to fight in Helmand Province in 2006, said ‘time is of the utmost essence’ and called for a change in the rules.
They wrote: ‘If any of our former interpreters are murdered by the Taliban in the wake of our withdrawal, the dishonour would lay squarely at our nation’s feet.’ The letter was co-ordinated by the Sulha Alliance, a campaign group for the translators and other Afghan workers who risked their lives to help British forces.
The MoD declined to comment last night.
The contrast that dishonours Britain
BY TOM TUGENDHAT
The image is all too telling. Empty dinghies lined up in a Home Office depot in Kent, each one having delivered a boatload of migrants across the English Channel.
This year already, an astonishing 9,300 migrants have made this dangerous journey to land on our shores – a record-breaking 3,300 this month alone. All have either claimed asylum or, in many cases, disappeared into the illegal economy.
Meanwhile, thousands of miles away, hundreds of brave men and their families can today only dream of the safety the White Cliffs of Dover promise.
Yesterday, more than 40 military chiefs urged the Prime Minister to accelerate the relocation of these interpreters, saying that Britain faces ‘dishonour’ (file photo of British soldiers in Afghanistan)
Afghan interpreters who risked their lives alongside our soldiers and marines are being put at terrible risk once more, as the Taliban continues to extend its power amid the final departure of the coalition forces.
This contrast should shame us. Those brave Afghans who have been loyal to British troops in combat are being kept in mortal danger by the labyrinthine red tape of the UK’s system.
Yesterday, more than 40 military chiefs urged the Prime Minister to accelerate the relocation of these interpreters, saying that Britain faces ‘dishonour’ if those who served with our troops are left to be murdered by the Taliban, which now controls 80 per cent of Afghanistan. I am proud to add my name in support.
At the same time, would-be migrants who have no connection to Britain at all – many of them grown men posing as children who’ve used criminal gangs to achieve their mission – are often brought ashore.
As boatload after boatload lands safely on the south coast, in Afghanistan, those we have left behind are paying a terrible price for loyalty.
Seven former coalition interpreters are said to have been murdered this year alone, while others have had family members killed, or seen their houses burned to the ground.
For me, this issue is hugely personal: I served in Afghanistan between 2005 and 2009. I was deployed in a number of roles, spending the last two years in combat. The interpreters I knew showed heroism matched only by their skill. Make no mistake: these men were on the frontline alongside us – they made the difference and saved lives. But unlike us, they weren’t armed or trained for war.
Some were very badly injured, others experienced several brushes with death.
As advisor to the Governor of Helmand Province, I was twice targeted by suicide bombers. The first time, my interpreter, Ahmed, was sitting just outside my office as the window was blown in. He was the first to check I was alive. On the second, the bomber killed several of my bodyguards just outside the office. Thankfully Ahmed was inside, otherwise he too would have died.
Like so many others, he dealt with this trauma with extraordinary courage and dignity – returning to work the next day without a murmur.
Ahmed is one of the lucky ones: he was granted leave to come to Britain in 2014 with his wife and children. He is now happy and settled here – a story I hope will soon be shared by Fardin Yarri, the heroic translator who worked alongside British and US troops in the 56-day siege at Musa Qala and who, as the Mail heart-warmingly reported last week, has recently arrived with his wife Marzia and six children.
Yet many others who served have found their efforts to come here stymied: not by a lack of will on the part of the British, but by the slow grind of the wheels of bureaucracy.
The Taliban has launched a sweeping offensive across Afghanistan following the US drawdown ahead of a complete withdrawal by August 31
Often children prove a stumbling block. Once they are over 18 – hardly uncommon for a conflict that was raging two decades ago – they’re asked to leave them behind. What parent could do that? In the murderous eyes of the Taliban, children inherit the sins of their fathers.
Many of these men are also responsible for a wider family, caring as a matter of honour, for the children of those who were killed working for the British. These honest men cannot leave their adopted children behind, and so are left to suffer. They can only look on helplessly as, thousands of miles away, new arrivals in Britain falsely declare themselves to be juveniles to ease their path to settlement.
As recently as two months ago, there was time for such glitches to be ironed out. But not any more. Surging violence, retribution and persecution makes these men and their families only more vulnerable by the day. Five I worked with have contacted me in the past week alone asking for help. They’re desperate.
The Government must act now. Not just because we owe it to these courageous men, but in our own interests, too.
We need to control our own borders and stop the horror of people-trafficking by working with groups like Stop the Traffik, the international campaign to end that awful crime. That’s how we protect the vulnerable. But it only works if we stick to our promises.
Snubbing brave Afghans to whom we owe so much undermines Britain, our credibility, and our military’s future operations. The world is watching – and time is running out.
Tom Tugendhat MBE VR MP has been chairman of the Commons foreign affairs committee since 2017