A former army Chief of the General Staff is among figures warning the government not to “abandon” interpreters who work with British forces in Afghanistan.
General Sir Mike Jackson leads signatories from the military, politics and academia in a letter to The Times today which demands government help for around 600 interpreters who have served British forces, mostly in Helmand Province.
“The British military’s job in Afghanistan would have been impossible without local interpreters, who have risked their lives and made extraordinary sacrifices just like British soldiers,” it says.
The letter argues that the government has a “moral obligation” to help protect the men from threats of Taleban retribution after British forces leave Afghanistan next year.
Lord Paddy Ashdown is a signatory to the letter along with Professor Michael Clarke, the director of the Royal United Services Institute – a leading defence think tank.
Two former soldiers who served alongside interpreters in Helmand also add their support – Patrick Hennessy, the author of “The Junior Officers’ Reading Club” and Jake Wood, author of “Among You: the Extraordinary True Story of a Soldier Broken by War”.
The Times has highlighted the plight of Afghan interpreters who have fled to Britain after being targeted by the Taleban.
To date around 20 interpreters working with British troops have been killed in action, dozens wounded and at least five abducted and murdered by insurgents.
UN figures showed a 108% increase in targeted assassinations of pro-government figures during 2012 including politicians and government employees, a total of 698 deaths. The Taleban has declared a death sentence on all Afghan interpreters working with NATO forces in the country.
Rafi Hottak was granted asylum in Britain on appeal last October after the UK Border Agency initially rejected his claim saying that he was not a British Army interpreter and was not in danger.
Mr Hottak survived serious injuries after being blown up with a British patrol in 2007 and suffered repeated death threats before fleeing Afghanistan in 2011. He spent 14-months awaiting a government decision on his case.
“I am grateful for this letter,” he said. “It shows that people are aware and are backing the interpreters who have supported the British forces.”
The government has so far resisted calls for the men to be granted the right to asylum in the UK. The United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand have all granted their Afghan interpreters the right to asylum.
A solicitor who worked on several interpreters’ asylum claims, Andrew Morris with Hine Solicitors, said they were being left for months or years in legal limbo in Britain.
“The government is not prioritising them and it is not giving them the recognition and fast tracking they deserve,” he said. “These people are very highly regarded by ISAF forces. They have impeccable references. They served this country. They put their lives on the line. They should be processed in days.”
Around 60,000 members of the public have so far signed an online petition organised by the civic pressure group Avaaz in support of the Afghan interpreters.
Other leading military figures to pledge support include General Lord Dannatt as well as soldiers who worked alongside the interpreters in Helmand.
Labour has backed calls for the Afghan interpreters to be offered asylum as Iraqi interpreters were by the previous government. “Those who risk their lives to help UK soldiers in a mission to protect UK national security deserve to right to settle in our country,” said Shadow Defence Secretary Jim Murphy.
In December Philip Hammond told parliament: ““I am confident that as we get nearer to the end of our combat involvement in Afghanistan, further statements will be made about our locally employed civilians. It is a problem we are very much focused on.”