UK vows to relocate 3,000 Afghan interpreters by end of summer

Three flights a week leaving the country as Taliban advance continues

HELMAND PROVINCE, AFGHANISTAN - JUNE 1: British Army Officer, Captain Alex Corbet Burcher from the 1st Battalion Welsh Guards Regiment,attached to the Inkerman Company, 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards Regiment patrols with ANA (Afghan National Army) Soldiers his area of operation  during "Lastay Kulang" Operation" on June 1, 2007 in Sangin Valley, Helmand Province, Afghanistan. British troops from The Inkerman Company, 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards, part of ISAF Task Force Helmand, are mentoring the Afghan National Army while conducting security operations on behalf of the Government of Afghanistan in Helmand Province.(Photo by Marco Di Lauro/Getty Images)

The UK is hoping to relocate more than 3,000 Afghan interpreters and their families before the end of the summer, British authorities have said.

To ensure a swift removal, three passenger aircraft are taking off every week from Kabul and other locations to take former employees out of the country, with fears for their security growing as the Taliban advance.

Greater focus has come on to the fate of those who worked for foreign forces after a group of more than 40 senior retired British officers wrote an open letter urging swifter action.

Despite the pressure to do more, the Ministry of Defence insists that it is relocating all those at high risk along with their families.

While Britain has already extracted more than 2,300 Afghans, it plans to remove the remaining 700 before the September 11 deadline for foreign military withdrawal.

The British Army used an estimated 3,000 interpreters during the two decades of conflict, but the former employees now face the threat of summary execution by the Taliban, who view them as collaborators.

A number have been threatened and five interpreters for coalition forces were murdered this year.

But with the departure of the last American troops and the Taliban controlling more than half of the country, British rules have been relaxed, allowing for those who were dismissed for minor infractions, such as not turning up for work, to be processed for resettlement.

“We owe a huge debt of gratitude to interpreters who risked their lives working alongside UK forces in Afghanistan,” the ministry said in statement. “Nobody's life should be put at risk because they supported the UK government to bring peace and stability.”

Ministry sources have disclosed that they are accelerating the pace of relocations but only for those at high risk.

While the parameters have been loosened, it is understood that authorities will not consider relocation for those former interpreters who have committed serious crimes.

The ministry has also said that the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy will continue after the military withdrawal with a dedicated team at the British embassy in Kabul investigating “claims from courageous local staff who are threatened as a result of their work with the UK".

Defence source said that they would review their plans if there was a “rapid deterioration” in the security situation in Afghanistan.

They have also dismissed reports that some former employees will be brought to the UK to decide whether they are eligible for resettlement rather than processing them in Afghanistan.

However, the ministry was stung by the criticism from the group of former officers, which included Gen Lord Richard Dannatt, who led the army during part of the war.

The officers claimed the relocations were not “being conducted with the required spirit of generosity and urgency”.

They added that too many interpreters had “unreasonably been rejected” and urged the government to review the policy immediately.

“Only those constituting a national security threat should be excluded,” they said.

Updated: July 29th 2021, 2:21 PM