Creating new perspectives since 2009

British Special Forces block former Afghan counterparts from relocating to UK, documents reveal

February 20, 2024 at 9:29 pm

British Special Forces commandos [Twitter]

British Special Forces have been blocking former Afghan troops from relocating to the United Kingdom after the Taliban retook Afghanistan in 2021, in what is reported to be the result of a conflict of interest within the UK’s Special Forces leadership and an attempt to cover their war crimes.

According to BBC Panorama, which cited leaked documents that it saw, UK Special Forces have been rejecting applications of Afghan commandos who accompanied and assisted them on missions throughout Afghanistan over a period of two decades.

As members of the former Afghan Special Forces units CF 333 and ATF 444 – known as the ‘Triples’ – they were eligible to apply for resettlement to the UK under the Afghan Relocation and Assistance Policy (ARAP) scheme. Since the Taliban’s retaking of Afghanistan in August 2021, however, hundreds of those Triples have had their applications rejected by British Special Forces leadership.

The revelation was made after the BBC viewed a number of leaked documents, including a Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) document obtained by the investigative newsroom, Lighthouse Reports, which showed that all Triples applications that reached a basic threshold were sent to UK Special Forces for approval or denial of sponsorship, at least since 2023.

Internal emails within the UK’s Ministry of Defence also reportedly showed that civil servants who have been administering the relocation scheme were unable to challenge the rejections issued by Special Forces, despite many of those applications having sufficient evidence of the Commandos’ service and presenting a strong case for resettlement.

A prominent reason for the applications’ rejections is reportedly the emergence of a conflict of interest within the upper ranks and leadership of British Special Forces, with former Special Air Services (SAS) members telling the report that the decisions directly aligned and coincided with a public inquiry in the UK to investigate allegations that SAS soldiers had committed war crimes on operations in Afghanistan in the presence of Triples units.

One former Afghan officer who made a number of complaints to the British military reportedly previously accused the SAS of committing war crimes during operations in Afghanistan, particularly the extrajudicial killings of Afghan civilians, which led to him withdrawing his men from their supporting role in SAS operations in protest.

READ: UK military killed over 50 detainees, unarmed men in Afghanistan, investigation finds

While the public inquiry is able to question and compel witnesses who are within the UK, it is not able to do so with non-British nationals who are overseas, such as those former Afghan special forces members. If they were to be granted asylum and relocation to the UK, therefore, they would then be able to provide evidence that could harm the SAS’s defence against those allegations.

According to one former British special forces officer, the entire situation is “a clear conflict of interest”, emphasising the fact that special forces’ headquarters “had the power to prevent former Afghan Special Forces colleagues and potential witnesses to these actions from getting safely to the UK.” Another former special forces officer was quoted as stating that “At best it’s not appropriate, at worst it looks like they’re trying to cover their tracks.”

Since the issue has come to light, the UK’s Armed Forces Minister James Heappey admitted that the decision-making process behind some rejections was “not robust” and announced a review of around 2,000 applications.

Heappey has also claimed to Parliament that the Triples applications had been denied partly because the government did “not hold comprehensive employment or payment records in the same way as we do for other applicants”. That was countered by military figures who had served alongside the Triples, however, insisting that London directly paid the former Afghan forces and kept records for every payment.

“I’ve seen spreadsheets where it’s very clear we paid them, not just for their service but for their skills, rank, and number of operations”, one former British officer said. “These guys were out on the ground most days for 20 years, fighting and dying and putting their lives on the line for us, in operations that we directed they should take part in”.

Following the revelations, the Ministry of Defence has announced it is reviewing the issue, with a spokesperson saying that “We are conducting an independent, case-by-case review of all applications from former members of Afghan specialist units, which includes applications from the Triples. This review will consider all available evidence, including that provided by third parties.” They added that the review “is being carried out by independent staff who have not previously worked on these applications”.

READ: UK’s Prince William to recognise Middle East suffering, office says