Afghanistan withdrawal: ‘Nightmare far from over’ for thousands of contractors, according to report

London: The disastrous UK withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021 was a “dark chapter” for Britain’s military history, a Ministry of Defence select committee report has said.

Led by MP Tobias Ellwood, the report has urged a full government inquiry into the chaotic withdrawal, warning that Afghanistan has since become a haven for terrorism under its Taliban rulers, the BBC reported.

The report also highlights the cases of thousands of Afghans who worked with British forces during the War in Afghanistan who “are at risk of harm” and for whom the “nightmare is far from over,” The Guardian reported.

The UK’s involvement in the coalition that ousted the Taliban more than 20 years ago resulted in 457 British personnel deaths and over $35 billion in costs.

But the withdrawal in 2021 resulted in the Taliban quickly retaking territory and assuming power in the capital, Kabul.

The 30-page report described the rapid collapse of the Afghan government as “a greater surprise to the military establishment than it might have been.”

As a result of the failings, the report urges an “open, honest and detailed review” of all British decisions made during the conflict, with a particular focus on the period leading up to the withdrawal.

A key focus of the findings concerns the fate of the thousands of Afghans formerly employed by British forces, including interpreters and contractors.

Though the report praised initial evacuation efforts in 2021 — which resulted in 15,000 people being transported to the UK — it warned that British authorities should have been better prepared.

The chaos led to “real and painful human consequences for those who reasonably expected to be evacuated but were not,” the report said.

The UK must expedite the relocation of remaining eligible Afghans under the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy and Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme, it added.

“Poor communications with applicants causing stress to them and increasing correspondence to MPs and others” was a key issue in failing to relocate Afghans, the report said. 

It also highlighted “unclear and frequently changing eligibility criteria.”

Britain is “still letting down many who risked their lives and their families’ safety by working for the allies or the Afghan authorities,” the committee said.

The Sulha Alliance, a charity that campaigns for the rights of Afghan interpreters who worked for the British military, said: “The building of hope by one UK governmental department before a rejection by another has meant that the approach has been disjointed.

“It has resulted in some interpreters selling their homes and packing up their lives because they had believed that they were being evacuated; in others, it has resulted in a sense of anger and rage.”

The MP report said: “The processing and prioritization of potential evacuees … could and should have been much further advanced by the time that the need for the evacuation became urgent.

“It is concerning that according to the Ministry of Defence’s own estimates, several thousand eligible Afghans — whose safety is by definition at risk in Afghanistan — remain to be evacuated under the ARAP scheme well over a year after the end of (the withdrawal) operation.

“We recommend that the government set out in their response to this report what action they are taking to ensure safe passage to the UK for eligible Afghans who remain to be evacuated under the ARAP.”

Following the report’s release, Ellwood said: “The withdrawal from Afghanistan was a dark chapter in UK military history. For the Afghans who cooperated with the UK, and the British troops who served in the country, the nightmare is far from over.”

He added: “They are at risk of harm as a direct result of assisting the UK mission. 

“We can’t change the events that unfolded in August 2021, but we owe it to those Afghans, who placed their lives in danger to help us, to get them and their families to safety.”

He praised improved funding for veterans and the work of British troops who served in Afghanistan, adding: “The bravery of those on the ground was never in doubt.”

In response to the report’s findings, a government spokesperson said that authorities worked “tirelessly to safely evacuate as many people out of Afghanistan as possible.

“We owe a debt of gratitude to Afghan citizens who worked for, or with, the UK armed forces in Afghanistan and to date we have relocated over 12,100 individuals under the scheme.”

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