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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - LONDON: The UK government will reopen applications from former Afghan special forces members denied asylum in Britain.
Hundreds of soldiers from so-called “Triples” units including Afghan Commando Force 333 and Afghan Territorial Force 444, set up by the British Army and who served alongside coalition forces, were denied relocation to the UK after the Taliban retook control of Afghanistan in August 2021.
The soldiers were described as fighting “shoulder-to-shoulder” with British units and were even paid by the UK government. They remained in place as other elements of the Afghan military disintegrated in 2021, assisting British soldiers with the evacuation of Kabul.
Armed Forces Minister James Heappey said the government would look again at the rejected cases, with one campaigner describing it as “a momentous decision and a life-changing day.”
Last month the BBC said it had identified 200 cases of former Triples soldiers currently in hiding in Pakistan and facing deportation.
Following the Taliban takeover, the UK set up the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy for Afghans who held “exposed or meaningful” roles working with UK authorities in the country and their families to travel to Britain.
After the fall of Kabul, many Triples soldiers believed their years of service would mean eligibility for relocation to the UK under the scheme, but hundreds were left stranded along with their relatives.
Gen. Sir Richard Barrons described the situation as “a disgrace, because it reflects that either we’re duplicitous as a nation or incompetent.”
Heappey told the British House of Commons that inconsistencies in the ARAP system had been identified which may have caused Triples applications to be rejected.
He added that the UK “owes a debt of gratitude to these brave individuals,” and said the Ministry of Defence would establish a dedicated team to carry out the reassessments.
He had previously told the Commons the MoD had faced problems verifying “the service of those who just served in the unit rather than explicitly alongside UK personnel.”
This prompted anger from former UK personnel who served in Afghanistan, with several saying references provided for their Afghan comrades had been ignored in the application process.
There have also been allegations that the UK’s failure to act sooner had led to the detention, torture, and deaths of several former Afghan Triples.
One former British soldier who served in Afghanistan told the BBC: “We have lost a number already, not all of them will make it, but for those who do this is the end of two-and-a-half years in hiding.
“This is finally a ray of hope for them, with the potential to have a life for them and their families.”
A campaigner acting on behalf of the former Afghan soldiers told the BBC: “They were so certain they would be taken care of, but to have to go into hiding and see colleagues murdered and not to have received any response or be rejected, was utterly heart-breaking.
“We failed in our duty of care to these people. These decisions were unlawful. The MoD knew they were unlawful but have just tried to delay the inevitable. They’ve been duplicitous,” the campaigner added.
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