Britain will make it easier for Afghans who worked with British troops to settle in the United Kingdom, amid rising fears for their safety as foreign forces leave Afghanistan, a minister has said.
Defence 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 armed groups in the country.
“With Western powers leaving, the threat is increasing, including targeted attacks by the Taliban,” Wallace told Sky News on Monday.
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 added.
More than 1,400 Afghan interpreters and their relatives have already moved to Britain under a resettlement scheme. The government says about 3,000 more are expected to come under new rules which broaden eligibility and make it easier for people to bring their families with them.
The government’s “moral obligation” to relocate staff was also stressed by UK Home Secretary Priti Patel who said that it was time to “recognise the risks they faced in the fight against terrorism and reward their efforts”.
“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.
At the peak of the post-2001 deployment, there were almost 10,000 British troops in Afghanistan, mostly in Helmand province in the south.
Britain ended combat operations in 2014, but about 750 troops remain in the capital, Kabul, to train Afghan forces.
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 United States 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 al-Qaeda, which was based in Afghanistan.
Britain’s approach to the relocation of its former staff in Afghanistan had been criticised for strict criteria around who could apply to live in the UK, and considered factors such as length of service and precise roles.