RAF chief backs our campaign: We must give asylum to Afghan pilot who risked his life for us

Dramatic intervention by Air Marshal Edward Stringer, commander of air operations during the Afghan conflict

Holly Bancroft
Social Affairs Correspondent
Wednesday 12 April 2023 15:42 BST
Rishi Sunak questioned on The Independent’s investigation on Afghan ‘hero’ facing deportation

An Afghan pilot threatened with deportation to Rwanda must be offered a “safe haven” in the UK, the former head of RAF forces in Afghanistan has said.

Air Marshal Edward Stringer, who was also director of operations at the Ministry of Defence, has backed The Independent’scampaign to grant the Afghan veteran asylum – saying: “Now is the time for us to demonstrate the decency on which we so pride ourselves”.

In an op-ed drawing on his years of experience, Air Marshal Stringer described the real risk to life that faces those Afghans who served alongside coalition forces.

“Many of those in the Afghan forces served with distinction alongside us – and the Taliban will never forget that,” he said.

“We owe them all a debt of honour and should offer them asylum, and the security we promised them, in the UK – not least because we could not guarantee them safety and security in Afghanistan.”

Air Marshal Stringer led the 904 Expeditionary Air Wing in Afghanistan in 2008 working with Nato and Afghan forces and was also the director general of the UK’s Joint Force Development, training across the military.

He continued: “The Taliban knows as well as we do that we helped train the Afghan pilots (I remember vividly the start of that mission in Kandahar in 2008) and we should stand by those brave men – like the pilot The Independent is campaigning for – now.”

He joins a number of growing voices supporting our campaign – including former head of the army Sir Richard Dannatt, former Nato chief Lord Robertson and Gen Sir Richard Barrons, a former chief of joint operations who served in Afghanistan – in urging the government to look into the pilot’s case.

The Afghan pilot – who flew dozens of missions against terrorist threats in Afghanistan – claims he has been “forgotten” by the British and American troops he worked alongside.

He wrote a letter to No 10 pleading his case after prime minister Rishi Sunak promised to get the Home Office to look into it, however, he is yet to receive a response.

Air Marshal Stringer led the 904 Expeditionary Air Wing in Afghanistan in 2008 working with Nato and Afghan forces (Royal Air Force)

He says he is one of many Afghan forces personnel who have made their way to the UK via small boat because they could not find a safe or legal route.

Air Marshal Stringer, who commanded RAF forces in Basra in 2007, said that while many in the MoD and across government have worked hard to get Afghans out of the country, many have been left behind.

The Afghan pilot hopes to bring his family to safety in the UK. He cannot be identified for fear of attacks on his family (The Independent )

He added: “The limited numbers making it via the various schemes and safe routes, and the bureaucratic cock-ups along the way, suggest that the system is not as joined-up across government departments as it might be.

“I am not surprised some have had to take to the small boats to cross the Channel to the country they so readily served. We must repay the debt we so clearly owe them.”

Data shows that the MoD’s refugee scheme, the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (Arap), has rejected 18,946 Afghans while just 3,399 have been found eligible.

Meanwhile, the general Home Office scheme for at-risk Afghans has only brought 22 people to safety in the UK since the initial evacuation, according to government data.

‘We must offer safe haven to the pilot who risked his life to fight alongside us’ (The Independent )

Air Marshal Stringer concluded: “We must offer safe haven to the pilot who risked his life to fight alongside us. And we must be generous to all his comrades now, in their hour of need.”

The Independent’s campaign has garnered support politically, with Labour leader Keir Starmer describing the treatment of the Afghan pilot as a “disgrace”, while chair of the Defence Select Committee Tobias Ellwood said his case has exposed a “gaping hole” in the UK’s asylum system.

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