Sunday, 9 May 2021

Afghan interpreter says he is being 'left behind to die' as UK troops withdraw

A ‘courageous’ former Afghan interpreter praised by British commanders for his frontline work says he is being left behind to die.

The civilian earned respect for his bravery under fire but says he faces death from the Taliban or ISIS as the UK and US withdraw from the country.

The popular 30-year-old supported British and Canadian forces for four years but says he was dismissed in 2013 for being in possession of a training manual which was given to him by his superiors.

He is among former translators who say their lives are in danger because they are being denied resettlement in the UK after being dismissed for minor disciplinary reasons, or having resigned.

The father-of-one, who was based in the former Camp Bastion, which was used by British forces in Helmand Province, says another interpreter has already been slain in his hometown in the eastern Paktia province.

The UK and US are due to withdraw their troops before the end of the year and hand over control to the Afghanistan government, leading to fears that the Taliban will exploit the absence of Western firepower to mount reprisals.

The married former translator has several glowing letters of recommendation from British commanders, including one from Major Ian Simpson, of 3 Rifles Battle Group, praising his ‘meticulous’ work.

It is one of more than 15 references and certificates of merit hailing his contribution, which included coming under fire from the Taliban as he provided a key link between British forces and the Afghan National Army in the highly volatile southern region.

Fears for former locally-employed civilians have been heightened following the murder of Feda Mohammad, 42, who was shot at point bank range at the entrance to Gardez, the capital of Patkia province.

The man said: ‘I risked my life for the UK Government but I’m being left behind for the Taliban or ISIS to kill me. Three months ago Feda Mohammad was slain by the Taliban who boasted that he died like a dog.

‘This happened in my home town and left myself and my family shocked.

‘We are just waiting for the Taliban to do the same thing to me. I am just waiting for my punishment.’

The former comrade, who does not want to be named to protect his safety, remains in hiding in his home.  

He told Metro.co.uk he was dismissed after being found in possession of a training manual during a search by the British Royal Military Police of intrepeters’ rooms at the former camp.

The man said: ‘I agreed to translate for a month for the UK Military Police to train some Afghan National Army Military Police.

‘Three days later I received a book with chapters and notes to make the training easier. I grabbed it and took it to my room.

‘After the training course ended three months later the Military Police searched the interpreters’ rooms and found the book on my table.

‘I told them the whole story and that I had received it from a British Major, but they said no, I was terminated.’

The man said he is at particular risk because he passed on information from informants concerning Taliban activities to British forces.

‘A local person came to a base in Gereshk district with information about the Taliban, such as how many people they are and where the IEDs were planted,’ he said.

‘The spy is now a high-ranking commander for the Taliban.

‘Surely they will target me because I was not hiding my face at the time. I am certain that when the UK and US forces withdraw every Afghan ally will be an easy target.’

The ‘charismatic individual’ has a series of letters and presentations commending his loyalty, professionalism and contribution to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force.

In October 2012, Major Simpson wrote: ‘Unlike some interpreters he is meticulous in his interpretation ensuring all of the discussion is passed on rather than paraphrasing or summarising.

‘His extremely personable nature ensures he is liked and respected by all.’

Major Simpson continues: ‘He is a charming, charismatic individual who is well liked and respected by his work colleagues.

‘He is thoroughly trustworthy and completely dependable.’

The man was also recognised for his contribution to 1st Battalion Coldstream Guards Battle Group in Helmand.

The presentation reads: ‘Op Herrick has been an especially demanding and difficult time. As a result of your hard work, you have supported the Battle Group to great effect in the Forward Operating Bases.’

Certificates were also awarded to the former interpreter from 3 Rifles Brigade Advisory Group, The 9th/12th Royal Lancers, the Light Dragoons Battle Group and the Royal Gurkha Rifles.

The Dragoons said: ‘He has proven himself to be loyal, trustworthy, courageous under fire and a devout and faithful Muslim.’

The ‘drawdown’ of British, US and other NATO troops begins on May 1 and is expected to take a few months, with the US having announced separately it will withdraw its forces by September 11.

The Sulha Alliance, which is supporting the man and other former interpreters, says that a third of the translators who assisted the UK, around 1,000 people, have been dismissed for minor disciplinary or administrative issues, such as smoking or arriving late, and as a result have not qualified for Government resettlement schemes. The number also includes staff who resigned, with one saying he stood down on advice from his family after his uncle was kidnapped and negotiations took place to release him.

Retired Colonel Simon Diggins, a former defence attaché to Kabul who is now a spokesperson for the alliance, said today that 35 per cent of the intrepreters employed between 2001 and 2014 were dismissed.

In a letter to The Times, Col Diggns writes: ‘That is a staggeringly high proportion and suggests that dismissal was over-used as a HR management tool, rather than as punishment.’

The Home Office says that 1,358 former interpreters and other staff have so far been resettled in the UK by a specialist team and decisions to deny applications have been made for valid reasons. A further 532 civilians have applied for relocation, with 84 currently awaiting a decision.  

On April 1, the Government launched the Afghan Resettlement and Assistance Policy (ARAP), which offers relocation and assistance to current and former locally-employed staff assessed to be under threat and includes a fast-track for those most at risk.

A spokesperson said: ‘We owe a huge debt of gratitude to interpreters who risked their lives working alongside UK forces and it is right we provide sanctuary to these brave men and women.

‘To help more people who have supported the UK Government in Afghanistan we are expanding our relocation offer through the ARAP.

‘The UK is also the only country with a permanent expert team based in Kabul to support individuals with security advice, financial assistance and relocation to safe areas.

‘Individuals are unable to qualify for the scheme if they have been dismissed. Every dismissal is for a valid reason, the record of every applicant is thoroughly assessed and we have full confidence in the validity of our processes.’

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