Afghan ex-commandos blocked from UK relocation by British colleagues

Afghan ex-commandos blocked from UK relocation by British colleagues
The Afghan soldiers applying for relocation may have been able to add crucial eyewitness accounts of war crimes. (File/AFP)
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Updated 19 February 2024
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Afghan ex-commandos blocked from UK relocation by British colleagues

Afghan ex-commandos blocked from UK relocation by British colleagues
  • UK special forces had final say over applications despite facing war crimes allegations
  • ‘Triples’ members could have provided evidence as part of investigation

LONDON: Elite Afghan soldiers who served alongside coalition forces against the Taliban were rejected from relocating to the UK by British special forces personnel, the BBC reported on Monday.

Documents leaked to the national broadcaster reveal that despite compelling evidence of involvement in the anti-Taliban campaign — a prerequisite of the British relocation scheme — many Afghan commando applications were axed by UK special forces reviewers.

The former commandos were eligible to apply for relocation under the Afghan Relocation and Assistance Policy, but dozens have since been attacked or killed by the Taliban after being rejected.

The CF 333 and ATF 444 units, dubbed the “Triples,” fought alongside British special forces in some of the most dangerous campaigns of the war.

Their relocation applications appear to have been sent to their former colleagues in Britain for approval or rejection as part of a new standard operating procedure.

But the designated chain of command has been criticized over an apparent conflict of interest, with special forces units in the UK, including the SAS, long facing controversy over war crimes allegations.

The Afghan soldiers applying for relocation may have been able to add crucial eyewitness accounts of war crimes, threatening the reopening of an official investigation that was shut down in 2019.

One British former special forces officer said: “It’s a clear conflict of interest. At a time when certain actions by UK special forces are under investigation by a public inquiry, their headquarters also had the power to prevent former Afghan special forces colleagues and potential witnesses to these actions from getting safely to the UK.”

Armed Forces Minister James Heappey recently pledged to review about 2,000 Triples applications after discovering that the reasoning behind some rejections was “not robust.”

Internal emails from the UK’s Ministry of Defence demonstrate the power of special forces reviewers to make or break relocation applications.

In some cases, civil servants tried to challenge rejections made by the special forces but were rebuffed.

Former Triples members told the BBC from Afghanistan that they now face significant danger and are unable to stay with their families or work.

One was beaten and interrogated by Taliban authorities before going on the run. He said: “I’m living in a very bad situation. I am in hiding and mostly my family can’t live together and we cannot go out and we cannot work.

“I was sure that my British colleagues and friends, who we worked for several years alongside, would help me to evacuate to safety.

“Now I feel that the sacrifices I made have been forgotten. I feel I have been left alone in the midst of hell.”

In another case, a former Triples member, at the time of the group’s joint operations with the SAS, complained to British military authorities over alleged war crimes perpetrated by his Western colleagues.

Pending an investigation, he forbade his men from taking part in supporting operations for SAS missions, alleging that extrajudicial killings of Afghan civilians were taking place.

An MoD spokesperson said: “We are conducting an independent, case-by-case review of all applications from former members of Afghan specialist units, which includes applications from the Triples.

“This review will consider all available evidence, including that provided by third parties. The review is being carried out by independent staff who have not previously worked on these applications.”


Biden tells Israel to protect civilians after Rafah strike

Biden tells Israel to protect civilians after Rafah strike
Updated 28 May 2024
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Biden tells Israel to protect civilians after Rafah strike

Biden tells Israel to protect civilians after Rafah strike
  • Biden has faced increasing pressure from within his own party to scale back support for Israel

WASHINGTON: The Biden administration told Israel to take every precaution to protect civilians after a military strike in Rafah killed dozens of Palestinians, as it faced calls from some fellow Democrats to halt military shipments to Israel.
“Israel has a right to go after Hamas, and we understand this strike killed two senior Hamas terrorists who are responsible for attacks against Israeli civilians,” a National Security Council spokesperson said. “But as we’ve been clear, Israel must take every precaution possible to protect civilians.
Biden has faced increasing pressure from within his own party to scale back support for Israel, even before the airstrike on Sunday night that set tents and rickety metal shelters ablaze in a Rafah camp, killing 45 people.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a prominent Democratic lawmaker in the House of Representatives, on Monday called the strike “an indefensible atrocity,” adding in a social media post that “it is long past time for the President to live up to his word and suspend military aid.”
“Horrific and gut wrenching images coming out of Rafah last night,” Representative Ayanna Pressley said in a social media post. “How much longer will the US stand by while the Israeli military slaughters and mutilates Palestinian babies?“
Representative Rashida Tlaib, the only Palestinian-American serving in Congress, called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a “genocidal maniac.”
Netanyahu on Monday said the strike was not intended to cause civilian casualties but went “tragically wrong.”
The NSC spokesperson said the US government was “actively engaging” with the Israeli military and others on the ground to assess what happened.
Almost half of Democratic voters disapprove of Biden’s handling of the Israel-Hamas war, according to a recent poll from Reuters/Ipsos.
Weeks of campus protests about the war have added to the pressure, and wider demands for a permanent ceasefire have put Biden’s reelection campaign on the defensive.


Canada pledges more visas for Gazans, says it’s ‘horrified’ by Israeli attack in Rafah

Canada pledges more visas for Gazans, says it’s ‘horrified’ by Israeli attack in Rafah
Updated 28 May 2024
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Canada pledges more visas for Gazans, says it’s ‘horrified’ by Israeli attack in Rafah

Canada pledges more visas for Gazans, says it’s ‘horrified’ by Israeli attack in Rafah

OTTAWA: Canada said on Monday it will issue visas to 5,000 Gazans, more than it originally pledged, and said it was “horrified” by an Israeli airstrike in Rafah that triggered a blaze causing 45 deaths.

The visas for Canadians’ relatives living in the enclave represent a five-fold increase from the 1,000 temporary resident visas allotted under a special program that Canada announced in December.

“While movement out of Gaza is not currently possible, the situation may change at any time. With this cap increase, we will be ready to help more people as the situation evolves,” Immigration Minister Marc Miller said.

A spokesperson for Miller said 448 Gazans had been issued a temporary visa, including 254 under a policy not related to the special visa program, and 41 have arrived in Canada so far.

An Israeli airstrike late on Sunday night triggered a fire in a tent camp in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, prompting an outcry from global leaders including from Canada.

“We are horrified by strikes that killed Palestinian civilians in Rafah,” Canada’s Foreign Minister Melanie Joly said in a statement, adding that Canada does not support an Israeli military operation in Rafah.

“This level of human suffering must come to an end. We demand an immediate ceasefire,” Joly said, echoing global leaders who urged the implementation of a World Court order to halt Israel’s assault.

Canada has repeatedly supported calls for a ceasefire in Gaza, including at the United Nations.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said earlier that the strike in Rafah had not been intended to cause civilian casualties and that something had gone “tragically wrong.” Israel’s military, which is trying to eliminate Hamas in Gaza, said it was investigating.

Nearly 36,000 Palestinians have been killed in Israel’s offensive in Gaza, according to the local health ministry, and an estimated 1.7 million people, more than 75 percent of Gaza’s population, have been displaced, according to the UN Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA.

Israel launched its military campaign after Hamas-led militants attacked southern Israeli communities on Oct. 7, killing around 1,200 people and seizing more than 250 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.


Spain pledges €1bn in military aid to Kyiv

Spain pledges €1bn in military aid to Kyiv
Updated 27 May 2024
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Spain pledges €1bn in military aid to Kyiv

Spain pledges €1bn in military aid to Kyiv

MADRID: Spain on Monday pledged one billion euros in military aid to Ukraine as Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky signed a security deal in Madrid.

The deal “includes a commitment for one billion euros in military aid for 2024,” Sanchez told a joint news conference

“It will allow Ukraine to boost its capabilities including its essential air defense systems to protect its civilians, cities and infrastructure which are still suffering indiscriminate attacks as seen this weekend in Kharkiv,” he said, referring to a Russian strike on the northeastern city that killed at least 16 people.

Zelensky’s visit comes as Ukraine has been battling a Russian ground offensive in the Kharkiv region which began on May 10 in Moscow’s biggest territorial advance in 18 months.

With the Russian assault now in its third year, Ukraine has been pleading for more weapons for its outgunned and outnumbered troops, notably seeking help to address its lack of air defense systems.

According to El Pais newspaper, the deal would include new Patriot missiles and Leopard tanks. Zelensky has already signed bilateral security agreements with several countries including France, Germany and the UK.

Sanchez said the security agreement would cover a range of a different issues.

“The agreement is based on a comprehensive overview of security and covers various areas such as military, humanitarian and financial support, as well as collaboration between Spanish and Ukrainian defense industries, as well as help with reconstruction and de-mining among other things,” he said.


Italy says violence against civilians in Gaza ‘no longer justifiable’

Italy says violence against civilians in Gaza ‘no longer justifiable’
Updated 27 May 2024
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Italy says violence against civilians in Gaza ‘no longer justifiable’

Italy says violence against civilians in Gaza ‘no longer justifiable’
  • Defense Minister Guido Crosett said ‘We are watching the situation with despair’

ROME: Italy said on Monday Israeli attacks on Palestinian civilians in Gaza were no longer justifiable in one of the strongest criticisms Rome has made so far against Israel’s campaign.

“There is an increasingly difficult situation, in which the Palestinian people are being squeezed without regard for the rights of innocent men, women and children who have nothing to do with Hamas and this can no longer be justified,” Defense Minister Guido Crosetto told SkyTG24 TV.

“We are watching the situation with despair.”

Crosetto said Italy agreed in principle with the Israeli response to the Oct. 7 assault by Hamas militants on southern Israeli communities, but he added that a difference had to be made between the militant group and the Palestinian people.

On Saturday, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani met Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Mustafa in Rome, reiterating their support for a ceasefire and urging Hamas to release Israeli hostages.

Italy has repeatedly said that Israel had a right to defend itself from Hamas. Last week, Rome said an International Criminal Court prosecutor’s decision to seek an arrest warrant for Israeli leaders was “unacceptable.” 


British foreign ministry official says some Muslims in UK want to ‘challenge values’ of the country

British foreign ministry official says some Muslims in UK want to ‘challenge values’ of the country
Updated 27 May 2024
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British foreign ministry official says some Muslims in UK want to ‘challenge values’ of the country

British foreign ministry official says some Muslims in UK want to ‘challenge values’ of the country
  • Was responding to comments made by right-wing politician Nigel Farage, the honorary president of Reform UK

LONDON: A British foreign office minister said on Monday some Muslims in the UK wanted to “challenge the values” of the country.

Anne-Marie Trevelyan’s was speaking after right-wing politician Nigel Farage, the honorary president of Reform UK, told Sky News on Sunday there was a growing proportion of British Muslims who “loathed” the UK’s values, citing a study that claimed 46 percent supported Hamas.

Trevelyan told LBC Radio on Monday that she believed a small minority of British Muslims matched the description.

“The vast proportion of British Muslims are wonderful, peace-loving, community-minded people, certainly in the northeast where I’m based, we have fantastic communities and they are a really important part of our social fabric,” she said.

“There are a very small proportion for whom they want to challenge those values that we hold dear in the UK, which are British values, and there we need to continue to work in community to bring those people to this.

“The UK has incredible values of freedom of speech, freedom of choice … these are incredibly important values, but they have to be nurtured and looked after, and where there are those who would threaten them we need to make sure that we deal with that,” she said.

Bridget Phillipson of the Labour Party, the shadow education secretary, slammed Farage’s comments as “incendiary rhetoric,” and told the same LBC show: “What we need in this election is a sense of how we bring our country together, how we focus on a more positive and hopeful mission for what our country can be — not this kind of division.”