200 Afghan ex-special forces who worked with British military denied relocation to UK: BBC

200 Afghan ex-special forces who worked with British military denied relocation to UK: BBC
An Afghan soldier gestures outside the gates of a British-run military academy on the outskirts of Kabul on Aug 5, 2014. (AFP)
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Updated 11 December 2023
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200 Afghan ex-special forces who worked with British military denied relocation to UK: BBC

200 Afghan ex-special forces who worked with British military denied relocation to UK: BBC
  • Gen. Richard Barrons: ‘It reflects that either we’re duplicitous as a nation or incompetent’
  • Ex-commando: ‘We never thought that heroes would be abandoned. It is really disappointing’

LONDON: About 200 former Afghan special forces whose anti-Taliban operations with Britain’s military were “incredibly important” have been denied relocation to the UK, the BBC reported on Monday.

A further 32 former government officials, as well as a number of civilian leaders who aided Britain’s mission in the country, have also been denied by the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Programme.

The former soldiers’ “abandonment” by the UK government has been labeled a “betrayal” and “disgrace” by senior British military figures, including Gen. Richard Barrons, who served in Afghanistan for more than a decade.

He told the BBC that the UK’s failure to relocate the former soldiers “is a disgrace, because it reflects that either we’re duplicitous as a nation or incompetent.”

Barrons added: “It is a betrayal, and the cost of that betrayal will be people who served with us will die or spend their lives in prison.”

The UK’s then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson in 2021 described the work of the former Afghan special forces as “incredibly important.”

Britain set up two major units composed of elite Afghan soldiers in an effort to combat opium production and the Taliban presence in Afghanistan.

Commando Force 333, and its sister unit, Afghan Territorial Force 444, were known as “the Triples,” and “quickly gained a reputation for effectiveness, honesty and courage,” the BBC reported.

One of the former CF333 members, known as Ali, described being “abandoned and betrayed” by the UK after spending “day and night” together with British soldiers.

He added: “During training we slept under one tent, eating from the same dish. During operations we fought shoulder-to-shoulder with the British, as members of one family.”

During the evacuation from Kabul in August 2021, Ali oversaw the protection of British passport holders as they left the country on emergency flights.

But he was denied entry on the same flights, and eventually fled to Pakistan by land out of fear of reprisal attacks from Afghanistan’s new Taliban rulers.

“We never thought that heroes would be abandoned. We took all those risks. We were ready to help the international community, we respected freedom of speech and human life, then everything turned upside down. It is really disappointing,” he said.

Figures compiled by a network of Afghan veterans, seen by the BBC, show that there are up to 200 other former soldiers in the same position as Ali. Their applications to Britain’s ARAP scheme have faced delays or rejection.

Civilian leaders who helped Britain’s mission in Afghanistan have also been denied by the scheme.

Among them is Mohammad Fahim, a former governor of Helmand province’s Garmsir district, a key Taliban stronghold before 2001.

Despite working “shoulder-to-shoulder” with Britain, he says he was “betrayed” and “never thought that I would be left alone like this.”

He added: “We arrested a number of Taliban leaders when I was governor. They knew that we were fighting together with the international forces, so the threat to me is real.

“We ran programmes shoulder-to-shoulder, with the shared aim of bringing security for the people who lived in Helmand, giving them a good life and making peace.”

His work to counter the Taliban presence in his district resulted in the murder of his brother and two cousins, and in 2018 Fahim was almost beaten to death.

Barrons said: “I’m personally ashamed because I feel very deeply that we made an obligation to them and we have not fulfilled it.

“It’s beyond absurd to say they don’t qualify and that they should be left behind to a fate at the hands of the Taliban.”

Lt. Gen. Abdul Hadi Khalid, former first commanding officer of CF333, said Britain’s treatment of the Triples will diminish the country’s standing in the region.

He added: “I’m 100 percent sure that when other nations, other progressive forces, see Afghanistan, when they look at Afghan people, Afghan miseries, how can they trust the West?”

In response to the BBC’s reporting, a UK Ministry of Defense spokesman said: “So far, we have brought around 24,600 people to safety, including thousands of people eligible for our Afghan schemes.

“Each ARAP application is assessed individually and in accordance with published policy, and we do not automatically make a decision on eligibility based on a job role.”


At least 26 dead in migrant shipwreck off Senegal

Updated 9 sec ago
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At least 26 dead in migrant shipwreck off Senegal

At least 26 dead in migrant shipwreck off Senegal
SAINT LOUIS, Senegal: At least 26 people seeking to reach Europe died after their loaded vessel sank off northern Senegal, the governor of the Saint-Louis region told AFP on Thursday.
Alioune Badara Samb said bodies had been found since Wednesday when the boat got into difficulty in a particularly dangerous part of the northern coast. He added that 21 people had been rescued.
The Saint-Louis estuary, where the Senegal River meets the Atlantic Ocean, is notorious for strong currents and areas of thick mud.
Samb did not say how many people were missing from the vessel, which witnesses said could have been carrying more than 300 people.
A number of survivors managed to reach shore and dispersed among locals on the sea banks, making it difficult to say exactly how many people were involved, he said.
Mamady Dianfo, a survivor from Casamance in the south, told AFP more than 300 people were on board when the boat left Senegal a week ago.
Another survivor, Alpha Balde, estimated there were more than 200 passengers.
Dianfo said the vessel reached Morocco further north up the coast but the captain then said he was lost and could no longer continue the journey.
“We asked him to take us back to Senegal,” he said.
President Macky Sall on Thursday expressed his “deep sadness” following the “tragic capsizing” in a message on X, formerly Twitter.
He added that the relevant authorities had been deployed to offer support and assistance.
Senegal’s coast is an increasingly common departure point for Africans fleeing poverty and unemployment and heading to the Canary Islands, their port of entry into Europe.
European Union border agency Frontex says Senegal and Morocco are the most common countries of origin for migrants arriving on the Spanish archipelago in the Atlantic.
Of the more than 6,600 migrants who died or went missing trying to reach Spain last year, the vast majority were lost on the treacherous Atlantic route, according to Spanish NGO Caminando Fronteras.

Austria appeals for a pause in fighting for Ramadan

Austria appeals for a pause in fighting for Ramadan
Updated 39 min 19 sec ago
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Austria appeals for a pause in fighting for Ramadan

Austria appeals for a pause in fighting for Ramadan
  • FM Alexander Schallenberg said the Middle East has witnessed enough devastation and cruelty

BEIRUT: Austria’s foreign minister on Thursday urged Israel and Hezbollah against escalating the conflict along the volatile Israel-Lebanon border and expressed hope for a pause in the fighting in Gaza in time for the start of the holy month of Ramadan in March.

The Middle East has witnessed enough devastation and cruelty, said Alexander Schallenberg, speaking after meeting his Lebanese counterpart in Beirut.

Schallenberg said he came to Lebanon after visiting Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinian city of Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Israeli airstrikes on Lebanese villages along the southern border killed two people and wounded 14 others in the village of Kafra on Wednesday night, National News Agency reported.

Meanwhile, an Israeli drone strike hit a truck near the western Syrian town of Qusair close to the Lebanese border on Thursday, killing a Hezbollah member, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition war monitor, and a Hezbollah official said.

European and American officials have tried to ease the tensions in visits to Beirut, to avoid a full-blown war between Israel and Hezbollah, which has said it would not discuss any deals before the war in Gaza ends.


Aid groups appeal to EU to release urgent funds for UNRWA

Aid groups appeal to EU to release urgent funds for UNRWA
Updated 26 min 27 sec ago
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Aid groups appeal to EU to release urgent funds for UNRWA

Aid groups appeal to EU to release urgent funds for UNRWA

BRUSSELS: Humanitarian aid groups have appealed to the EU to release tens of millions of euros in funding due to the main UN agency that delivers most aid to people in the Gaza Strip as the organization teeters on the brink of financial collapse.

The European Commission, the EU’s executive branch, was due to disburse €82 million ($89 million) to the UNRWA aid agency on Feb. 29. UNRWA said that it still had not received the payment as of Thursday morning.

“This is a moment of reckoning for the EU as a humanitarian leader and a critical donor for this crisis,” said Niamh Nic Carthaigh, from Plan International’s EU Liaison Office.

“Any further cuts to UNRWA funding would be an effective death sentence for civilians trapped in Gaza and the region who rely on the agency for their survival,” she said in a joint statement from 17 aid groups, including the International Rescue Committee, Save the Children and Oxfam.

UNRWA is reeling from allegations that 12 of its 13,000 Gaza staff members participated in the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks in southern Israel. The agency immediately fired the employees, but more than a dozen countries suspended funding worth about $450 million, almost half its budget for 2024.

UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini has described the payment due from the EU as “absolutely critical.”

The agency has been the leading supplier of food, water, and shelter during the war in Gaza. Lazzarini has warned that it may be forced to suspend its work soon.

Two UN investigations into Israel’s allegations against the agency are underway, but the European Commission — the third biggest donor to UNRWA after the US and Germany — has demanded a separate audit and wants to appoint experts to carry it out.

Asked on Thursday how the audit is evolving and when funds might be released, European Commission spokesman Eric Mamer said that “work is ongoing.”

“The plight of the Palestinian people is of utmost concern to us. At the same time, we have set out several points that need to be agreed with UNRWA before we decide on the next payment, which is indeed foreseen for the end of the month,” Mamer said.

The war has driven 80 percent of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million Palestinians from their homes, and UN officials say a quarter of the population is starving.

The European Commission acknowledged this week that no agency other than UNRWA is capable of helping Gaza’s people correctly and that Israel has provided no evidence to support its allegations against the agency’s staff. The agency provides Israel with a yearly staff list and has received no objections.

Despite this, it insists on “a review of all UNRWA staff” to confirm they had no role in the attacks. Of the UN agency’s 13,000 Gaza staff members, more than 3,000 continue working there.

Among the EU’s 27 member countries, several have unilaterally suspended funding. Germany said it “will temporarily not approve any new funds” until investigations are concluded. France, Italy, and the Netherlands have taken similar positions.


US has no expectation of free and fair vote in Iran, State Dept says

US has no expectation of free and fair vote in Iran, State Dept says
Updated 51 min 12 sec ago
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US has no expectation of free and fair vote in Iran, State Dept says

US has no expectation of free and fair vote in Iran, State Dept says
  • “I suspect that a great number of Iranians have no expectation that those elections will be free and fair,” Miller said

WASHINGTON: Washington has “no expectation” that a parliamentary election in Iran on Friday will be free and fair, State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller told reporters on Thursday.
“I suspect that a great number of Iranians have no expectation that those elections will be free and fair,” Miller said.

“As you probably already know, thousands of candidates were already disqualified in an opaque process and the world has long known that Iran’s political system features undemocratic and non-transparent administrative, judicial and electoral systems.”


UN chief ‘condemns’ deadly Gaza aid delivery incident

UN chief ‘condemns’ deadly Gaza aid delivery incident
Updated 29 February 2024
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UN chief ‘condemns’ deadly Gaza aid delivery incident

UN chief ‘condemns’ deadly Gaza aid delivery incident
  • United Nations spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the events “need to be investigated" “
  • We don’t know exactly what happened but whether people were shot and died as a result of Israeli gunfire”

UNITED NATIONS: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres “condemns” the deadly aid delivery incident in northern Gaza, in which Hamas says over 100 people were killed, his spokesperson said Thursday.
Desperate for food, thousands of Palestinians in Gaza City flocked to an aid distribution point early Thursday, only to be met with lethal chaos including live fire by Israeli troops.
An Israeli source has acknowledged that troops opened fire on the crowd, believing it “posed a threat,” but a spokesperson for the prime minister’s office also said that many people had been run over by the aid trucks.
United Nations spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the events “need to be investigated.”
“We don’t know exactly what happened but whether people were shot and died as a result of Israeli gunfire, whether they were crushed by a crowd, whether they were run over by truck, these are all acts of violence, in a sense, due to this conflict,” said Dujarric.
He said there was “no UN presence” at the scene and reiterated the secretary-general’s call for “an immediate humanitarian ceasefire and the unconditional release of all hostages.”
“The desperate civilians in Gaza need urgent help, including those in the besieged north where the United Nations has not been able to deliver aid in more than a week,” Dujarric said, adding that Guterres was “appalled by the tragic human toll of the conflict.”