LONDON: The Royal Air Force is carrying out secret missions to extract Afghan translators who manage to cross the border out of Taliban-run Afghanistan, according to the Telegraph newspaper.
The mission, which is understood to have started this week, could see hundreds of people who worked with British forces during the 20-year occupation of Afghanistan airlifted back to Britain.
The Telegraph did not report the specific locations of the airlifts, but Afghans have been fleeing Taliban rule toward various bordering countries, including Pakistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan.
Technology obtained by the Taliban stored databases of civilians working with coalition forces, raising fears of retributory violence against the estimated 300 interpreters left behind when foreign troops withdrew. Many of them were forced into hiding, changing between safe houses to hide their location.
The planes will also extract stranded foreign nationals of allied states and will land in border regions of neighboring states rather than in the larger airports of capital cities. The aircraft being used are capable of landing on rougher terrain than standard craft, including roads, desert, and scrubland.
A government source told the Telegraph: “More RAF aircraft are going in to pick people up from ‘friendly’ nations. We’ll be picking up a variety of foreign nationals, ARAP (translators eligible for evacuation under the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy), anyone left behind.”
Another source emphasized that the government had committed to “get as many people out as possible and they will do what they can to make that happen.”
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Defence said: “During Operation Pitting (August’s evacuations), we worked tirelessly to safely evacuate as many people out of Afghanistan as possible, airlifting more than 15,000 people from Kabul including thousands of ARAP applicants and their dependents.”
Despite the evacuations of tens of thousands of people, the end of the 20-year war in Afghanistan was marred by violence and scenes of chaos.
A suicide bomber killed nearly 200 people — the vast majority of them Afghan civilians — who were trying to escape the country through Kabul airport. Footage showed Afghans dropping from planes as they departed, and some observers compared the withdrawal to the US’ infamous departure from Vietnam decades earlier.
A US airstrike in response to the suicide attack on Kabul airport killed a family of 13, many of them children, and the US later admitted that the strike could have been a mistake.
Britain also faced criticism when an email hotline exclusively for Afghan evacuees hoping to escape the country was closed at short notice.
Despite the challenges, the Ministry of Defence spokesperson said: “We will continue to do all we can to support those who have supported us, and our commitment to those who are eligible for relocation is not time-limited and will endure.
“The ARAP scheme remains open to applications and we will continue to support those who are eligible.”