UK is leaving us to die, say Afghan interpreters

The Sunday Times

WAHIDULLAH NOORI has tied tourniquets to the limbs of wounded British soldiers and watched friends and colleagues die in front of him. He has met insurgent leaders in secret UK negotiations with the Taliban and has toiled alongside British special forces.

As a result of Noori’s work for the British, the Taliban want to kill him. Insurgents have already shot his brother and blown up the front gate of his family home with a rocket- propelled grenade.

Yet, despite his 5 years as an interpreter for UK forces in Helmand, the British government refuses to protect the 25-year-old from his would-be murderers.

“I am scared and disappointed,” said Noori, who still works for the British in Helmand. “No one wants to leave the country they love but when your life is at risk then it is necessary.”

While the government helps Iraqi interpreters who worked for British forces by resettling them abroad, no similar scheme exists for Afghan interpreters. The government says people who have put their life on the line will not be abandoned while arguing that the “situation in Afghanistan is quite different from Iraq”.

Yet the Taliban are known to murder Afghan interpreters. In November, gunmen killed two as they drove to work at a Nato base in eastern Afghanistan.

As Nato pulls soldiers out of the country, officials fear that insurgents and other armed groups will find it increasingly easy to take revenge on those Afghans they view as traitors. Last year, the United Nations noted a rise in the killings of civilians who work for international forces.

“These are retribution killings,” said one British official. “They are revenge for working with the enemy.”

To the Taliban, Noori qualifies as a traitor. The father of two began his work for the British in 2008 with Task Force 42, a secretive formation of UK special forces set up to hunt Taliban commanders and train Afghan special forces.

After several months, Noori transferred to a regular British infantry unit. He joined soldiers on patrol and on several occasions helped rescue the wounded. “I made friends with many of the soldiers. We lived in the same checkpoints,” Noori said. “I still talk to some of them on Facebook. We lost a lot of friends then.”

Wahidullah Noori, who met David Cameron, is being targeted by Taliban killers

In 2010 Noori began work in Sangin, one of the most violent places in Afghanistan. By the time he arrived, a third of all British military casualties had been incurred there.

Working with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Noori soon found himself involved in more clandestine work. As the Taliban’s campaign escalated, British officials reached out to the insurgents for a peaceful solution.

Noori sat and drank tea with senior insurgent commanders. Initially, several agreed to lay down their weapons.

All the negotiations were done with Noori and another interpreter, according to an official familiar with the accord. “It’s no exaggeration to say the peace deal wouldn’t have happened without them.”

But as America assumed control of the district, the deal broke down and Noori found himself in danger. Letters arrived at his home in Wardak province summoning him before a Taliban court.

Then, in the early hours of August 12 last year, gunmen appeared at the family home and fired a rocket-propelled grenade at his gate. They pinned a letter to the wall that said the Taliban knew Noori worked in Sangin as “a slave of the British infidels”. They threatened to kill him and his young family.

“The Taliban knew my face in Sangin,” explained Noori. “It was easy for them to find me.”

Noori moved his family, including his three-year-old son and two-year-old daughter, to Kabul. But his elder brother refused to leave. Two weeks later, gunmen ambushed the brother as he drove home from the local vegetable market. Two bullets slammed into his leg.

Noori told the Foreign Office about the attacks. He also showed officials the Taliban’s letters. But he was told there was nothing the government could do to help, according to British officials. The Foreign Office advised him to move house and change his car.

Desperate, Noori cornered David Cameron when the prime minister was visiting troops in Helmand.

“I walked up to him and said, ‘Hey, man, everyone is thinking about the future. The soldiers will go home but what will happen to those of us who have supported British forces?’

“He said he was working on that but he wasn’t sure what was going to happen. I knew then that he wouldn’t help us.”

The Foreign Office, which claims to “take . . . threats towards staff very seriously”, has made no attempt to investigate Noori’s case, according to British officials.

“As a direct result of working for the British, the interpreters are targeted by the Taliban and yet they refuse to do anything to protect them,” said Rosa Curling, a lawyer at Leigh Day & Co, which represents a number of Afghan interpreters.

America, Canada and New Zealand all offer Afghan staff the chance to resettle abroad.

The Ministry of Defence refused to let British commanders discuss Noori’s work for them in Helmand. However, one of Britain’s most senior generals said interpreters were “critical”.

General Sir Nick Parker, who was the deputy commander of all Nato forces in Afghanistan from 2009-10, said: “We could not do our job without them. They are as important as your radio or your rifle or your chef.”

In a letter to The Times yesterday, General Sir Mike Jackson, the former chief of the general staff, appealed to the government not to “abandon” about 600 interpreters who have served British forces.

Lord Stirrup, the former chief of the defence staff, has already warned in the House of Lords that Britain would find it “increasingly hard” to obtain interpreters if “we . . . discard them when they are no longer needed”.

Other officials who worked in Afghanistan called the government’s failure to protect interpreters “shameful” given the “appalling conditions” they endure on behalf of Britain, often at “tremendous risk to their own lives”.

Noori believes that time is rapidly running out for him and his colleagues. “I cannot stop working for the British because if I return home the Taliban will kill me. When the soldiers leave they [the Taliban] will come after all of us.”

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2 comments

  1. […] 25, who served British soldiers and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for 5½ years, gave an interview to The Sunday Times three weeks ago in which he highlighted the government’s failure to protect interpreters who […]

  2. […] I have served in the British army and the British foreign office as an interpreter for five and half years. As a result, I have received death threats from the Taliban. My brother was nearly assassinated and the Taliban fired a rocket at my house as a warning. Many times insurgents have threatened to kill me and my family. I tried to tell the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Helmand about my life being in danger. But they ignored me. […]

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