Photo: Ministry of Interior Afghanistan (MOI)

Former Afghan Elite Forces Fear Persecution After Visa Denial by the UK

Hundreds of Afghanistan Special Forces soldiers, trained and funded by the UK during their 20-year fight against the Taliban, face deportation from Pakistan back to Taliban-controlled Afghanistan after their applications for resettlement in the UK were rejected.

More than 150,000 British Armed Forces personnel served in Afghanistan between 2001 and 2021. This came at a cost, with over 450 deaths in service, and financial expenditure of £27.7 billion. Following President Biden’s announcement of a U.S. military withdrawal in 2021, Britain, along with other allied forces, opted to conclude their operations in Afghanistan before that deadline. Additionally, Britain has suspended its embassy operations in the country.

Despite serving shoulder-to-shoulder with British troops throughout the war in Afghanistan, the majority of elite forces from the Commando Force 333 and Afghan Territorial Forces 444 known as “the Triples” were left behind during the August 2021 evacuation. Their subsequent applications for relocation under the UK’s Afghan Relocation and Assistance Programme (ARAP) have been recently rejected. The UK government contends that they didn’t directly work for a UK government department and, thus are not qualified for resettlement to the UK as part of the program.

After the Taliban took over Afghanistan, hundreds of the Triples sought refuge in neighboring Pakistan, fearing retribution and hoping to be resettled in the UK. But after two years of waiting, a BBC report says about 200 of them have been denied. Now, they face being sent back to Taliban-controlled Afghanistan because the country has started a crackdown on people living there without legal documents.

Gen Sir Richard Barrons, who served the British Army in Afghanistan for over 12 years, told BBC that the failure of the UK to relocate these soldiers “is a disgrace because it reflects that either we’re duplicitous as a nation or incompetent”. “Neither is acceptable,” he said. “It is a betrayal, and the cost of that betrayal will be [that] people who served with us will die or spend their lives in prison,” he added.

A member of the elite Commando Force 333, set up by the UK to counter Afghanistan’s opium production, facing expulsion from Pakistan, told the BBC that he felt abandoned and betrayed by the UK, “During operations, we fought shoulder-to-shoulder with the British, as members of one family.”

Despite the Taliban’s public announcement of a general amnesty for former government members and those who worked with foreign forces, reports continue to surface of widespread arrests, torture, and even killings targeting these individuals, particularly former security personnel and those who actively supported international efforts during the past two decades. in the most recent incident, in Afghanistan’s Takhar province on Saturday, December 9, the Taliban fighters raided the home of a former local police commander for the previous government named Abdul Bashir and killed him and his pregnant wife who had recently been expelled from Pakistan.

A recent report by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) has revealed widespread human rights abuses perpetrated by the Taliban against individuals affiliated with the former government. The report documents a staggering 800 incidents of extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests, torture, and enforced disappearances. Of these, the report highlighted 218 cases of extrajudicial killings of former security forces and ex-officials, and more than 424 cases of arbitrary arrests and detentions. The remaining were reported as instances of torture, enforced disappearances, and other abuse.

The UK government faces criticism for its handling of resettlement programs for Afghans at risk, particularly those who supported the country’s mission in Afghanistan and members of oppressed minority groups. Last year, nine expert groups on Afghanistan criticized the government’s schemes as “unjustifiably restrictive,” expressing concern about the lack of safe passage for many women, girls, and vulnerable individuals. However, the UK government defends its resettlement efforts, stating that it has successfully brought around 24,600 at-risk people to safety including thousands who supported the UK’s mission in Afghanistan and former government officials.