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UK special forces have power over Afghan sanctuary claims despite investigation into alleged SAS crimes

UK special forces have frustrated efforts by Afghan troops to gain sanctuary in Britain despite the fact that some of the Afghan soldiers could be witnesses to crimes allegedly committed by British units.

Hundreds of Afghan special forces soldiers who served in two elite units known as the Triples have had their applications to come to the UK rejected by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) – with some subjected to murder and torture at the hands of the Taliban after being refused help.

In a joint investigation, The Independent revealed numerous cases of former Afghan soldiers who had been denied relocation to the UK even though they had extensive evidence of their work alongside British forces.

Veterans minister Johnny Mercer has reportedly raised concerns about why UK special forces are allowed to play a part in deciding which Afghan Triples come to the UK while an investigation is ongoing into crimes committed by the SAS in Afghanistan. Some Afghan members of the unit Commando Force 333 were partnered with the SAS during the period that is being investigated.

An internal government document shows that any application to the Afghan relocations and assistance policy (Arap) scheme from a Triples member must be approved by the UK special forces (UKSF).

Afghan Triples soldiers, such as the one pictured here, have been wrongly rejected for resettlement by the UK Ministry of Defence (Supplied)
Afghan Triples soldiers, such as the one pictured here, have been wrongly rejected for resettlement by the UK Ministry of Defence (Supplied)

According to sources within the MoD, the UKSF had been refusing to engage with the process, thus not approving many cases, leading to what were effectively blanket rejections.

It is understood that bosses at the MoD felt that it would be too hard to help the Triples come to the UK because the UKSF were failing to cooperate. The MoD has denied that any blanket decisions were made and said that flawed decisions led to Afghans being wrongly turned away.

But they insisted that UK Special Forces did not make the final decisions on eligibility for the Arap scheme.

Ministers have pledged to review some 2,000 applications by those who served in Afghan specialist units.

The Independent has previously reported that questions were asked by officials working for the independent inquiry relating to Afghanistan, which is investigating alleged war crimes committed by the UKSF in Afghanistan between 2010 and 2013, over their unwillingness to approve Triples’ cases for UK resettlement.

Independent inquiry officials were particularly interested in the Triples units because they may be able to provide testimony that is relevant to the inquiry, sources said.

Afghan members of Commando Force 333 were partnered with the SAS during the relevant years of the inquiry. Now former members of the SAS have told the BBC that the power the UKSF have over Triples’ relocation to the UK represents a conflict of interest.

One former UK 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.”

Another former officer said: “At best it’s not appropriate; at worst it looks like they’re trying to cover their tracks.”

BBC Panorama also reported that MoD civil servants felt unable to challenge rejections made by the UKSF, even when there was a strong case that an Afghan soldier should be resettled in the UK.

Two former Triples members, whose pleas for sanctuary were rejected in 2023, told the broadcaster they had witnessed what appeared to them to be war crimes committed by the UKSF.

The Times has also reported that veterans’ affairs minister Johnny Mercer wrote a letter to deputy prime minister Oliver Dowden raising concerns as to why the UKSF were allowed to play a part in deciding which Afghan Triples came to the UK.

Mr Mercer is due to appear before the independent inquiry relating to Afghanistan on Tuesday, making him the first minister to do so.

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.”