Plans to rapidly relocate hundreds more Afghans who worked for the British and American forces, mostly as interpreters, have been announced.
Including family members, more than 3,000 Afghans are expected to be allowed to settle in the UK, joining 1,300 who have already done so.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace told the BBC that “with Western powers leaving, the threat is increasing, including targeted attacks by the Taliban”.
The issue has been a concern since British forces ended combat operations in Helmand in 2014 – with British troops who served there being among the most vocal in their support for measures to protect those who assisted them during their deployment.
Earlier schemes applied strict criteria on who could apply for a new life in the UK and considered the Afghans’ length of service and precise roles.
But under new government policy, any current or former locally employed staff who are assessed to be under serious threat to life will be offered priority relocation to the UK.
However, not everyone who worked for the British will be eligible to apply, including those sacked for serious misconduct.
At the start of this year there were still 750 British troops in Afghanistan, mostly providing security in the capital Kabul. Their withdrawal is already under way following US President Joe Biden’s decision to pull out US troops from the country.
The US, who employed many more local Afghans, is working on a similar scheme to “rapidly” evacuate Afghans who worked for the American military ahead of September’s final troop withdrawal, said Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen Mark Milley.
He said a “significant” number of interpreters and other employees could be targeted by Taliban militants.
As many as 18,000 Afghans have applied for visas to immigrate to the US under a special programme but the scheme has been hit by delays, with applicants waiting for years.
“We recognise that there are a significant amount of Afghans that supported the United States and supported the coalition, and that they could be at risk,” Milley said on Thursday.
“We must do what is necessary to ensure their protection and, if necessary, get them out of the country if that is what they want to do. There are plans being developed very, very rapidly here, not just interpreters but a lot of other people that have worked with the US.”