Britain to accelerate relocation for around 3,000 Afghan staff

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Britain on Monday announced plans to accelerate its relocation of Afghan staff who worked with the military and their families ahead of a planned withdrawal of US-led NATO forces.

Under Britain’s relocation scheme for former and current Afghan staff, many of whom served as translators, over 1,300 workers and their families have been brought to the UK. More than 3,000 Afghans are expected to be resettled under the accelerated plans.

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Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said it was “only right” to speed up the plans with former Afghan staff at risk of reprisals from the Taliban and other insurgent forces in the country.

“With Western powers leaving, the threat is increasing, including targeted attacks by the Taliban,” Wallace said.

Local staff who served with British forces had “sacrificed a lot to look after us and now is the time to do the same”, he said.

The government had a “moral obligation” to relocate staff and to “recognize the risks they faced in the fight against terrorism and reward their efforts”, UK Home Secretary Priti Patel said.

“I’m pleased that we are meeting this fully, by providing them and their families the opportunity to build a new life in this country,” she added.

Britain and other NATO members have been under pressure from campaigners to relocate the thousands of local staff who served with them during two decades of conflict.

In Afghanistan, former workers for the alliance have warned that they, and their families, will be targeted by the Taliban ahead of a US deadline to remove the 2,500 troops and 16,000 civilian contractors.

Last month President Joe Biden ordered the exit, to bring to a close US on-the-ground involvement in a war that began following the September 11, 2001 attacks by an Afghanistan-based al-Qaeda.

Other NATO forces, including 750 British troops who are predominantly in the capital Kabul, are to withdraw alongside the US.

Britain’s approach to the relocation of its former staff in Afghanistan had been criticized for strict criteria around who could apply to live in the UK, and considered factors such as length of service and precise roles.

But a policy unveiled in April now means any current or former locally employed staff assessed to be under serious threat to life will be offered priority relocation to Britain, the Ministry of Defense has said.

Retired Colonel Simon Diggins, the former British attaché in Kabul and now a campaigner for the Sulha Alliance, told AFP he welcomed the acceleration of relocations saying it showed “goodwill and a positive attitude of officials and senior ministers.”

However, he was critical of a continued lack of clarity for translators who were dismissed from the British Army and may be denied relocation as a result.

Diggins also questioned whether logistics would allow so many to be relocated in so little time. “I am really not sure how they are going to make it work with all those numbers. I really hope they can. But the numbers are huge and do they really have the resources to deliver that?” he asked.

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