The Defence Secretary has pledged to “personally review” claims that Afghan interpreters are being denied asylum amid criticism the UK is not doing enough to help them.
In a series of tweets posted on Monday night, Ben Wallace said he would “personally review contentious claims”, as he insisted the Government’s work continued to “bring locally employed civilians in Afghanistan to the UK to keep them safe”.
Mr Wallace stressed that resettlement decisions were based on the threat to life, as well as “their eligibility and the security of UK citizens”.
He added: “We have streamlined checks to help as many civilians as possible, but we must continue to verify claimants’ identity.”
It comes as America extended a visa lifeline to thousands more Afghans seeking refuge in the face of Taliban gains, which has further increased pressure on the UK to ramp up its own resettlement scheme.
The US announcement was seized upon by senior politicians and former military commanders in the UK, who urged the Government to step up its own efforts to relocate former Afghan employees at risk.
Under the new US rules, Afghans who worked for the American government or military, as well as those with US contracting firms, aid agencies and media organisations, will now be eligible for visas.
The new offer “expands the opportunity to permanently resettle in the United States to many thousands of Afghans and their immediate family members who may be at risk”, the State Department said.
Afghan security officials arrive as part of a reinforcement to fight against Taliban militants
Credit: Jalil Rezayee/Shutterstock
Tobias Ellwood, the Tory chairman of the Commons defence select committee, said: “We should absolutely be doing more. We should have been leading on this.”
Warning that “nobody anticipated the speed at which the country would fall”, he said Afghans who worked with British forces were “now in great danger as the Taliban hunts them down”.
He urged the Government to “expedite the programme” to resettle interpreters and not “turn our backs” as the country slid towards civil war.
Admiral Lord West of Spithead, who was chief of the naval staff at the beginning of combat operations in Afghanistan, also weighed in.
The Government should agree to take Afghans who worked in other roles with UK forces beyond translating, he said, arguing they were also at risk of retaliation from the Taliban.
“We should be doing something with urgency. There are Afghans at risk of being killed. We need to be faster and we need to be more open-minded [about who to resettle],” he said.
Admiral Lord West added: “There’s the moral imperative, but also self interest. People won’t help us in future wars if they know we won’t look after them.”
To date, Britain has resettled 2,300 Afghan interpreters and members of their immediate families.
A government spokesperson said ministers were continuing to “significantly accelerate the pace” of relocations, adding: “Nobody’s life should be put at risk because they supported the UK Government in Afghanistan. Our Afghan relocation policy is one of the most generous in the world.”
Taliban accused of civilian massacre
America’s announcement came as Afghan forces continued battling to stop a first major city from falling to the Taliban, while the United States and Britain accused the insurgents of massacring dozens of civilians after they recently took a town on the border with Pakistan.
Allegations that the insurgents executed government employees in revenge killings after they took the town of Spin Boldak last month amounted to potential war crimes, Washington and London said. Suhail Shaheen, a Taliban negotiating team member based in Doha, said the accusations were baseless.
A three-month-long Taliban offensive has seen the government lose control of scores of rural districts, while the cities of Lashkar Gah, Kandahar and Herat have come under siege.
President Ashraf Ghani on Monday blamed the deteriorating security on Joe Biden’s decision to quickly pull out troops.
“The reason for our current situation is that the decision was taken abruptly,” Mr Ghani told parliament, referring to the withdrawal of foreign forces. Mr Ghani said he had warned Washington that the withdrawal would have “consequences”.
As fighting raged around Lashkar Gah and Kandahar, officials said the Taliban were hoping to seize the cities’ prisons to free detained fighters and swell their ranks.
Security personnel stand guard outside the United Nations Assistance Mission in the Guzara district of Herat province
Credit: Hoshang Hashimi/AFP
“The Taliban have a plan to release their detainees, but it will never happen. We are resisting, and we will not let them carry out their plan,” Mohammad Wali Alizai, Helmand’s governor, told The Telegraph.
The release of Taliban prisoners through either prison breaks or negotiations has been a long-standing goal of the insurgents. Prisons have become a regular battleground when the militants have encroached on cities.
A government source in Kandahar said that six weeks ago more than 1,350 political prisoners were transferred to Kabul as a precautionary measure. Those remaining were largely common criminals.
Gen Sami Sadat, commander of the 215th Maiwand Corps in Helmand, fighting in Lashkar Gah, said the Taliban had attempted to take the city’s prison, but been beaten back with heavy losses.