New report damns Foreign Office for Kabul evacuation failures
27th May 2022

Terror of the ones we left behind: A new report has damned the Foreign Office for the Kabul evacuation. What’s worse is that so many of those who risked their lives for Britain, and were promised help, are being hunted and tortured by the Taliban

  • A new report has slammed the Foreign Office for the chaos in Kabul last August
  • Many people who helped Brits who were left behind are now being hunted 
  • Wahid, a former interpreter, has been captured and abused by the Taliban 

That night, Wahid was taken from his cell and forced to kneel on the floor of another room in the police station. Under earlier interrogation, the blindfolded father of four had not told his Taliban captors what they strongly suspected and he knew to be true.

Wahid had worked as an interpreter for the British Special Forces in Afghanistan. The Taliban would not accept his desperate denials. He knew all too well what the next step would be.

What has happened to so many of Britain’s abandoned Afghan allies since the Taliban regained power last August. And so the first savage beating and torture with electric probes began.

Wahid, a former interpreter for the British, was tortured by the Taliban in Afghanistan

Twice, Wahid underwent intense physical abuse as his assailants sought a confession that would have been his death sentence.

He endured but knew he could not do so for ever. It was only when local elders intervened that he was granted a reprieve and released — with the promise that if he was found to have lied he would be killed. He immediately went into hiding, where he has remained.

That was December. Last week, a letter was delivered to his brother’s home. It warned Wahid to give himself up, or ‘we [the Taliban] will enjoy killing you’.

This week Wahid moved to a new hiding place. He had applied for relocation to the UK under the Government’s Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP) scheme last August and has heard nothing since the first, standard, acknowledgement of receipt.

‘If the Taliban find me, I am dead,’ he tells the Mail. ‘Why do the British take so long? Do they not care?’

His despair at our shameful inaction is understandable. There are still thousands like him, living underground existences, waiting for London to fulfil what so far has been an empty promise, in a land that is racked by hunger.

The UK’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan, Whitehall’s sluggish response and the human cost of the aftermath are scandals that surely put the Partygate and Beergate furores in the shade.

On Tuesday, the UK’s abandonment of the Afghans after 20 years of war was described by an MPs’ inquiry as a ‘disaster’ and a ‘betrayal’ that will damage the nation’s interests for years. The report by the Foreign Affairs Select Committee said its members had lost confidence in the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office’s top civil servant, Sir Philip Barton, and urged him to consider his position.

The Permanent Under-Secretary, who earns £185,000 a year, was on holiday when Kabul fell on August 15 last year and remained so for 11 days. The then Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, was also on holiday, at a luxury resort in Crete, although he returned the day after Kabul’s capitulation.

Their absence ‘marks a fundamental lack of seriousness, grip or leadership at a time of national emergency,’ said the inquiry, and ‘mismanagement’ of the evacuation ahead of the advancing Taliban ‘likely cost lives’.

There is nothing ‘likely’ about it. Lives were and are being lost every week as a result of our failure to stand by those who helped Britain during its long war.

It’s probably too late for ‘AM’, 36. He was arrested at a money market in Kabul by the Taliban some 18 days ago, and his colleagues told us they fear he is dead.

A member of the Afghan Special Forces who worked closely with the UK military for 14 years, AM was among those awaiting a decision on his ARAP application. Too late now? One wonders when, if ever, he would have been notified.

His is not an isolated case. According to military sources, two former Coalition interpreters and at least half a dozen members of the UK-backed Afghan military have been murdered in Taliban revenge attacks in the past month. Dozens are said to have been beaten. The Taliban is stepping up its hunt for these ‘traitors’.

As a result, every week this newspaper’s award-winning Betrayal Of The Brave campaign is being contacted by desperate Afghans pleading for help. Most have applied to the resettlement schemes, but say they feel ‘lost and angry’ that they go for months without a word about their case.

Afghans wave papers at Western forces in Kabul during the evacuation last August

Launched more than six years ago to help translators who had served Britain so loyally during the 20 years of conflict, our campaign is credited with helping save lives and pressuring the Government to change the law relating to the relocation of Afghans.

The bureaucratic process was already fatally — and we use that word accurately — slow.

Now there is a very real sense that the plight of the UK’s Afghan allies is being sidelined and forgotten thanks to events elsewhere.

Vital Government resources are said to have been diverted from processing UK visas for Afghans to help with applications from Ukrainians fleeing the conflict in their homeland. We know that they are being fast-tracked compared with their Afghan counterparts because the family of one of the Mail’s own interpreters in Kyiv is now living in the UK, having arrived little more than a month after applying.

The UK’s original Afghan evacuation — Operation Pitting — rescued 15,000 people. A further 4,000 have been helped after escaping into ‘third countries’ since August. It is understood the processing of cases is being stepped up, but hundreds who qualify remain in Afghanistan, while many thousands are still waiting to hear if they are eligible.

The Home Office insists enough resources remain on the ARAP scheme to work on both Ukraine and Afghanistan.

But insiders say the new focus on Ukraine has resulted in the numbers escaping Afghanistan into neighbouring Pakistan — the first step to reaching the UK — ‘reduced to a trickle’; from more than 300 in February to around 20 in April, with even fewer expected this month.

The impact of Ukraine is also being felt in the Pakistan capital Islamabad, where hundreds of Afghans whose relocation applications have been approved wait at British-funded hotels — some for many months — for UK visas.

The number issued is said to have been reduced at one point from up to 40 a day before Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine to fewer than 40 a week. Rafi Hottak, an Afghan former supervisor of translators, survived being blown up in Helmand, in a blast that killed a British officer, and now works to help those who are still in Afghanistan.

He says: ‘With so much focus on Ukraine, it is essential that those at risk because of their work with Britain are handled as a matter of urgency. It is shameful that so many have to wait in hiding for months with no word from the UK about their cases. The Taliban knows they can’t hide for ever.

‘Britain must honour its promises and not forget those who risked their lives beside them . . . act now before it is too late.’

Who then are those still stranded? We can tell the stories of a handful among the thousands. Mashal, 31, was another UK Forces’ interpreter. When the then Prime Minister Gordon Brown visited British forces in Kabul, Mashal was trusted sufficiently to provide translation for him. He applied for ARAP more than ten months ago and has heard nothing since. He is still waiting for the decision that ‘could save my life’ . . . and the Taliban are on his trail.

Earlier this year, they lured him into a trap. He narrowly survived with ‘a badly broken nose’ after Taliban sympathisers failed to pick him out at an identity parade.

‘I was incredibly lucky,’ he tells the Mail. ‘I would have been killed if they had confirmed my identity. They suspected it was me . . . they punched me in the face and hit me. But I kept denying I was Mashal, who had worked for the British.

‘The Taliban is stepping up the search for those they call spies, who worked with the foreign forces. It is a very dangerous time to have been an interpreter.’

Mashal says he spent two years with British Forces from 2009 to 2011. It was during this period that he translated for Gordon Brown. He also helped to translate during a visit by David Cameron, then leader of the Opposition.

He says he resigned from the military because his family lived in an area controlled by the Taliban and he was being threatened because of his work.

Angry and frustrated, he accuses Britain of ‘cruelty’ for the months of silence around his case and believes that Afghans who risked their lives for UK troops are being forgotten, despite the support of the soldiers they worked with.

On at least three occasions, his family’s home has been visited by the Taliban looking for Mashal. Once, his mother was beaten so badly by fighters demanding to know where he was, she ended up in hospital for two weeks while her injuries were treated.

Mashal’s brother was also beaten up and is now in custody.

‘I am very scared and don’t know what to do,’ Mashal says. ‘I know that people are looking for me and I can’t hide for ever.’

Sumaya sobs as she makes clear her contempt for the way she and other women who worked for the British have been treated.

‘I bitterly regret working on behalf of the UK,’ says the pregnant 30-year-old, who was a teacher with the British Council.

‘Britain has no problem making visas for women in Ukraine a priority, but we who taught their values, language and virtues are forgotten. There are no visas for those now at constant risk of punishment because of their work.’

She lives in hiding with her husband and three-year-old daughter, moving house on a monthly basis to avoid capture.

For two years she was one of a dozen female teachers employed by the British Council to teach in rural Afghanistan. It is for this work that she believes she is being targeted by the Taliban.

She and her husband applied to relocate to the UK before the Taliban swept into Kabul last August. They were initially rejected as they had not been directly employed by Britain, but then told to reapply.

‘‘We live in fear for being the face of Britain, We just do not know what is happening, there is so much uncertainty,’ says Sumaya, (a pseudonym we are using to protect her identity).

‘I taught the language of the Christian enemy, promoted Western values to women and children. It makes me a Taliban target and if I am caught I will be punished. I just do not understand why Britain chooses — and it is a choice — not to help us.’

She said Afghanistan is a ‘prison’ for women who helped the West and highlighted the Taliban’s recent decree to make the burka mandatory for all women. The Taliban had previously decided against reopening schools for girls over the age of 11, and, as well as being forced to cover their faces, women are no longer allowed to travel unless accompanied by a male family member.

‘Day by day, life is stricter and harder for women,’ says Sumaya, ‘They will not hesitate to make examples of us, and I appeal to the UK Government to help us. It does not matter under which scheme we are saved — just help us and make good on your promise that no one will be left behind. If I had worked for virtually any other country, I would have been safe now.’

Wahid, whose torture we described earlier, was given away by his smartphone when he was stopped at a checkpoint. They found Facebook and WhatsApp exchanges with friends in the UK, certificates relating to his work with British troops, and — crucially — his application to relocate to this country.

He had worked with UK Forces between 2003 and 2005, and then a British Special Forces unit.

He said he was forced to resign because Taliban fighters who lived in his rural village had threatened his family. After moving away, and finding work with aid agencies, initially he felt safe. Then, in 2007, he began receiving threatening calls saying that as a ‘spy of the infidel’ he would be killed.

He moved again and in his submission to the ARAP team said he had ‘lived in peace’ until 2017, when he was warned of a plot to kill him because he was suspected of having spied for the British.

Gunmen attacked his home, he said in his statement, their bullets narrowly missing his wife and their children.

He moved yet again . . . and then the Taliban swept into Kabul.

‘Our lives are at risk now because of our work with British Forces, whom I served bravely and loyally,’ he says. ‘The last attack on me shows the danger my family faces. I appeal to the British Government to recognise this.’

Britain’s attention is understandably focused on events in the Donbas region of Ukraine. But we must not forget those who stood beside us in a previous time of need.

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