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Labour demand government update MPs on plight of Afghan special forces

Hundreds of the special forces soldiers will have their cases reviewed in government U-turn

Holly Bancroft
Social Affairs Correspondent
Tuesday 30 January 2024 12:27 GMT
The special forces units abandoned to the Taliban by Britain

Labour has called on the government to update MPs on the plight of Afghan special forces soldiers who fought with the British army but were abandoned and left to the mercy of the Taliban.

Some 400 soldiers who served in two specialist units will have their applications to settle in the UK reviewed after the Ministry of Defence decided to change how it assesses their claims, The Independent understands.

Ministers have not yet updated MPs on the changes despite some politicians taking to social media to suggest that sanctuary will soon be granted.

If their reviews are successful, the special forces soldiers will be allowed to bring their family members with them to the UK, meaning thousands in fear of their lives in Afghanistan and Pakistan could come to Britain.

Labour’s shadow armed forces minister Luke Pollard has asked for MPs to be updated about the Triples’ cases (PA)

The government U-turn comes after a joint investigation by The Independent, Lighthouse Reports and Sky News found that members of the units, known as the Triples, were being denied help by the MoD despite evidence to show that they were paid, trained and worked alongside British special forces.

The two units are known as the Triples because their full titles are the Afghan Commando Force 333 and Afghan Territorial Force 444.

Now Labour’s shadow armed forces minister Luke Pollard has written to his government counterpart James Heappey, asking that he comes to the House of Commons to “clarify the government’s position on the Triples”.

He referred two tweets posted by veterans minister Johnny Mercer and security minister Tom Tugendhat, saying: “They allude to the fact that action may be taken to grant sanctuary to the Triples”.

Responding to media reports of the reprieve, Mr Tugendhat took to X, formerly known as Twitter, to say: “We should never have left our comrades behind. Johnny Mercer has been working hard to turn this around.”

Veterans minister Johnny Mercer has committed to helping the Afghan special forces soldiers (PA)

Mr Mercer retweeted this, adding: “This government will see through our commitments.”

Labour’s Mr Pollard told armed forces minister Mr Heappey that the ministers’ comments indicated a “different position than the one previously issued by yourself, as minister responsible for the Arap scheme.”

The Arap scheme is the resettlement programme run by the MoD, designed to help those Afghans who helped the British armed forces find safety in the UK.

Defence minister Mr Heappey had previously played down help available to the Triples in the House of Commons, telling MPs that they “are not automatically in scope for relocation”.

Defence minister James Heappey is in charge of Afghan’s evacuation to the UK (PA)

Mr Pollard wrote to the minister, saying: “The government must clarify its position on the Triples and whether they will have their applications under Arap reviewed, as reported in the media today.

“Britain’s moral duty to assist Afghans is felt most fiercely by the UK forces they served alongside. For the sake of those Afghans who fear for their futures, they should hear any changes in government policy from ministers and not from media speculation.”

He asked that MPs are updated “very soon”

A spokesperson for the MoD has said that they would not comment “on speculation” and insisted that all Arap applications would be considered on a “case-by-case basis”.

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