1.Throughout the United Kingdom’s involvement in Afghanistan, British forces were supported by some 7,000 Afghans, known as locally employed (or engaged) civilians (LECs). They worked in a variety of support roles alongside British military and civilian personnel where they were often exposed to danger. The greatest risks were taken by those acting as interpreters who accompanied British troops on operational patrols and, according to the MoD, interpreters accounted for around half of all LECs in Afghanistan. As well as facing frontline danger during their employment, interpreters and other LECs and their families in Afghanistan continued to be at risk of reprisals after the completion of the British drawdown in 2014.
2.The UK Government has stated that it believes that it has a ‘debt of gratitude’ to LECs and in recognition of this, and of the dangers of their work, the Government has established two schemes for former LECs in Afghanistan:
3.These schemes, however, have been the subject of repeated criticism in the press and from former LECs and British Servicemen. In addition to claims that former LECs have been ‘abandoned’ by the UK Government, with many alleged to have relied on people smugglers to escape the Taliban, the Redundancy Scheme has been criticised for the ‘arbitrary’ nature of its cut-off period for applicants, and concerns have been expressed about the way in which the Intimidation Scheme has been implemented.
4.In light of these criticisms, the Defence Committee, in this and the previous Parliament, decided to examine the effectiveness of measures that the Government put in place to provide security and support to LECs in Afghanistan, and whether these measures adequately reflected the crucial role which interpreters and other LECs played in the campaign.
5.In January 2017, the previous Defence Committee took oral evidence from Colonel (Rtd) Simon Diggins OBE, former British Defence Attaché in Kabul, Rafi Hottak, a former interpreter for British Forces in Afghanistan, and the-then Minister of State for the Armed Forces, Rt Hon Sir Mike Penning MP.
6.The Committee returned to this subject, following the General Election, holding a further evidence session in November 2017 with Tom Tugendhat MBE MP, the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, who saw active service in Iraq and Afghanistan as an Army officer, and two members of the Locally Employed Civilians Assurance Committee: Baroness Coussins, a member of the House of Lords International Relations Committee, and Lord Stirrup, a former Chief of the Defence Staff. A full list of witnesses is appended to the back of this report and we thank all of them for their evidence to this inquiry.
7.Starting with a brief discussion of the role played by LECs in Afghanistan, this report then focuses on the operation of the two schemes—including the criticisms of them and the responses from the Ministry of Defence. Attached to the report is an annex that looks at the broader context in which the Afghan schemes have operated, including comparisons with the scheme provided for LECs engaged in Iraq and the steps taken by the UK’s coalition allies in Afghanistan.
1 Letter from the Minister of State for the Armed Forces, Rt Hon Mark Lancaster TD VR MP to the Chairman of the Defence Committee, Rt Hon Dr Julian Lewis MP, dated 12 March 2018
2 [HC 993]; D. Williams (16 August 2015), , Mail Online; L. Brown (13 December 2017), , Mail Online.
3 Defence Committee (7 February 2017), , HC 993
4 Defence Committee (28 November 2017), , HC 572
Published: 26 May 2018