Sunday, July 21, 2024

The BBC Panorama programme reported in February that UK Special Forces had 'vetoed' resettlement applications from Afghan commandos - known as the “Triples” - who had fought alongside the SAS.

There were suggestions at the time - which we said we hoped were untrue - that such a veto, if it existed, gave UK Special Forces (SF) decision-making power at a time when some of the Afghan commandos might be potential witnesses to the Haddon-Cave war crimes inquiry investigating SF actions in Afghanistan.

Defence Ministers then firmly denied to MPs that any such veto existed ...

Following the BBC report, the Labour shadow armed forces minister, Luke Pollard, wrote as an MP to the MoD In February to ask whether UKSF did have a veto over Triples applications.

An MoD minister replied “Addressing the point you raise on a ‘veto’, I can confirm that no such mechanism exists, or has existed, for any government department or government body.”

Separately, Stewart McDonald MP, a former SNP defence spokesperson, submitted a question in Parliament and was also told UKSF (discreetly referred to in question and answer as 'Other Department') had never had a veto over such applications. In fairness, the answer dated 22 March 2024 did not deny that 'Other Department' might have had an input:

... When considering Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy scheme applications under Category 4, Ministry of Defence (MoD) caseworkers seek input into decision-making from other parts of the MoD, Other Government Departments and governmental bodies, where they are likely to hold useful information relating to an individual's application. ...

But Mr McDonald has reportedly now received a letter from Defence Minister Andrew Murrison informing him that an "error has been identified in the parliamentary question response provided to you on 22 March 2024".

According to the BBC, the Minister's letter went on to say that, "under a standard operating procedure previously in use, UK Special Forces assessments had been used by MoD caseworkers to decide whether or not to proceed with Triples’ resettlement applications."

That essentially gave UK SF a veto over the applications.

Mr McDonald told the BBC that the reversal was “an extraordinary admission by the UK government, and a complete and utter betrayal of those Afghan men who fought alongside UK personnel and now face being hunted and executed by the Taliban”. He has written to the Defence Secretary, Grant Shapps, to complain about more than one aspect of the correspondence.

He also intended to share the letter with Lord Justice Haddon-Cave, the chair of the Independent Inquiry Relating to Afghanistan.

Comment: It seems entirely right that the recommendations of relevant British former 'employers' should be taken into account by those dealing with applications for resettlement or other assistance under the ARAP Scheme. Security and confidentiality considerations may apply; for example, the names of British or other adverse informants should not be released to unsuccessful applicants.

We do not envy the task of officials handling such applications when there are no reliable sources left in country, and their decisions can have huge consequences for the lives and safety of applicants and in many cases, their families.

Of course the Ministry is right to correct an error, difficult to understand as it is.

But this latest development gives the impression, however unfairly, of sneaking out a necessary correction at a time when it cannot be questioned in Parliament, and new Ministers (who knows?) could be along soon to question what has been happening.

The Government announced in February that the cases of those former 'Triples' soldiers (Afghan personnel who fought directly alongside UK SF as members of units CF333 and ATF444), who had been rejected under the ARAP Scheme, would be reviewed by officials who had not been involved in the original decisions.

Of course it would take time to complete all such reviews. But we know for a fact that at least some former 'Triples' soldiers have not even been informed that a review is under way, or received any reply to their anxious enquiries.


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