Britain’s shameful betrayal of its Afghan allies
Soldiers who fought alongside the UK could soon face persecution from the Taliban.
According to reports, 200 members of Afghan special forces – who were trained by the UK during the 20-year-long war in Afghanistan – now face deportation from Pakistan to their Taliban-controlled homeland.
These elite commandos fled to Pakistan with their families after the Taliban retook Afghanistan in August 2021. The Pakistani government is now threatening to expel them alongside many other Afghan refugees. Some Afghans have already left, while others have submitted legal petitions against the deportations to Pakistan’s supreme court. The soldiers’ fate remains in the balance. Should they be deported to Afghanistan, they face the prospect of persecution or worse at the hands of the Taliban.
The UK should open its doors to these soldiers and their families. But while the government is happy to rehome migrants who have illegally entered the UK on small boats, it seems to be unwilling to help those Afghans who fought side-by-side with the British Army. General Sir Richard Barrons, who served in Afghanistan for 12 years, has labelled the government’s failure to offer shelter to the soldiers a ‘betrayal’ and ‘disgrace’. It’s hard to disagree.
Serving in units such as Commando Force 333 and the Afghan Territorial Force 444, these elite soldiers fought on the frontline of counter-terrorism operations in Afghanistan. According to Barrons, they took part in ‘the most dangerous, the most difficult, the most important missions’.
Furthermore, they were standing by Britain’s side right to the end. When Kabul fell to the Taliban in August 2021, it was these same Afghan soldiers who helped UK citizens escape, ensuring their safe voyage. For the British state to now sit on its hands while these friends and allies are in such peril – fearful for their lives as well as those of their loved ones – is completely unacceptable.
There is a clear moral case to be made for these soldiers and their families to be given sanctuary in the UK. For good or ill, these people supported the UK’s intervention in Afghanistan. They fought shoulder-to-shoulder with the UK against Islamist militias in an effort to build a new Afghanistan. No matter how naïve and flawed this ‘nation-building’ project clearly was, Britain nevertheless owes these soldiers a huge debt. And yet, instead of coming to their aid, we’re in danger of leaving them to face retribution at the hands of the Taliban.
It is also in the UK’s national interest to provide refuge for these soldiers. They have been trained by the UK military and have fought alongside British personnel in high-risk operations. Their skill and bravery ought to be invaluable to the army.
To abandon these Afghan soldiers now would represent a profound betrayal. And it would not go unnoticed by potential allies in the future. How could the UK expect to rely on the support of others in any future conflicts? Even those sympathetic to British aims and objectives would be unwilling to put their trust in the British state, for fear that their service and loyalty would count for nothing if events unravel – as they did in Afghanistan.
This awful episode speaks to our moral disarray when it comes to questions of asylum. Here is a clear-cut case of people who need and deserve our help, yet our government seems incapable of providing it. The government’s inability to get on top of our dysfunctional asylum system is stopping it from offering refuge to those to whom we owe a debt of gratitude. Our Afghan allies deserve so much better.
Rakib Ehsan is the author of Beyond Grievance: What the Left Gets Wrong about Ethnic Minorities, which is available to order on Amazon.
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