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Ahmad was found around 9am, badly injured and covered in blood, in a dried up canal. The former Afghan sergeant had been brutally beaten by his Taliban attackers, who left him for dead. Due to his 13 years of service with the British special forces, he was a high priority target.
He only recalls being commanded to surrender 20 rifles that he didn’t possess, and then the brutal attacks ensued. One of the attackers stated that he had nothing to offer them and suggested killing him. He was severely beaten, resulting in the loss of four teeth and a broken nose. He had to undergo numerous surgeries as a result.
Ahmad, whose name has been changed to protect his safety, is one of hundreds of Afghans who served in two little-known elite special forces units known as the ‘Triples’ —which were set up, trained and funded by the British — and yet have been denied relocation to safety in the UK. Most that we’ve spoken to, including Ahmad, have been told by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) they are not eligible because they did not work closely or in partnership with the British.
Instead, the Taliban is now in control and targeting these individuals for information, weapons, and revenge, even resorting to murder as retribution for their service.
The Independent, in partnership with investigative newsroom Lighthouse Reports and Sky News, conducted a six-month investigation and discovered that numerous ex-commandos have been subjected to violence, torture, or death at the hands of the Taliban since August 2021. We have confirmed 24 instances of such mistreatment, which includes a man who was fatally shot in the head while grocery shopping and another who was tortured so severely that his family believes it would have been kinder if he had been killed.
Many people have been compelled to live in poverty due to the constant need to relocate and avoid the Taliban, making it difficult to find employment. A former soldier shared his struggles of scavenging for scrap metal to provide for his family. The majority of these individuals are separated from their spouses and children, meeting in secret under the cover of night.
After conducting interviews with over 100 former members of two Afghan units referred to as Commando Force 333 and Afghan Territorial Force 444, as well as consulting various documents, it has been discovered that the Ministry of Defence’s statement about these units not working closely with the British is incorrect. In reality, the partnership between the two was so close that members were even receiving a salary from the UK government and some were still being paid until shortly before the fall of Kabul.
In 2012, a Triples mechanic received a certificate that praised him as a valuable, dependable, and diligent employee of both the British and Afghan forces. However, the Ministry of Defense denied his request for assistance in June. Additionally, members of the 333s have been issued ID cards with the British flag and a statement declaring their partnership with the British military.
Charlie Herbert, a high-ranking member of the military who served with the Triples and acted as a senior advisor for Nato in Afghanistan from 2017-18, stated that 333 and 444 were the Afghan security forces that were most closely connected to the UK. He also noted their unwavering loyalty and bravery in supporting the military’s goals. The fact that some of these forces are still in Afghanistan more than two years after the evacuation is appalling.
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has not provided assistance to these Afghans, who have been confirmed to have served alongside UK Special Forces (UKSF). This is believed to violate the MoD’s own Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (Arap), which was created to relocate eligible Afghans who worked with the British. It also does not fulfill the promise made by Prime Minister Boris Johnson in September 2021 that the UK would do everything possible to ensure that members of the Triples group who were left behind in Afghanistan would have safe passage.
The Independent has discovered that a legal case has been filed against the government challenging the denial of assistance to numerous Afghans.
A group of Afghan special forces members have arrived in the UK via evacuation or by traveling through Europe and crossing the Channel on a small boat. Some are currently located in nearby countries like Iran and Pakistan, but most are still in Afghanistan.
Ahmad remains trapped in Afghanistan following the MoD’s formal denial of assistance. On July 11th of this year, Ahmad received an email stating that he did not qualify for help because he did not work in Afghanistan with a UK government department, in collaboration or close support with it.
Ahmad vehemently denies this statement. He stated, “The Brits were at the forefront of our military operations and lived with us in the same camps. We believed we were friends and had mutual obligations to each other.” He continued, “We never imagined that anyone from our unit would be abandoned. Even the supporting staff were supposed to be assisted, but they betrayed us.”
Ahmad, a sergeant in the 333s, shared meals and drinks with his British special forces comrades at their base in Logar province. During joint operations with the British to target Taliban hideouts, he sustained multiple injuries and remained devoted until the end. In August 2021, he was among the 333 squadron deployed at Kabul airport to assist with the Nato evacuation.
The ex-military member is currently in hiding, but he is worried that if the Taliban finds him again, he may not survive. Images captured at the medical facility following the assault display Ahmad with a significant, bleeding wound on his nose and absent front teeth. In a recording he shared with his previous leader the day after the violence, his bruised face concealed by bandages, he describes in a pained tone the events that occurred.
A brutal and deadly campaign
Ahmad’s colleague, Riaz Ahmadzai who served as a CF333 member, was also present at Kabul airport for security purposes during the withdrawal of the West. Unfortunately, he encountered a more dire outcome.
At first, it appeared that Riaz, who was 24 years old, would be safe as he gave his weapons to the Taliban and received a receipt ensuring his safety. Despite being cautious and rarely leaving his house, he still ventured out in April 2023 to purchase groceries for his family’s Eid festivities. Tragically, he was fatally shot in front of his home in Jalalabad.
According to his father, two individuals on a motorcycle shot him in the head, despite the general amnesty and promise of no harm. He died immediately and his younger brother took him to the hospital, but the doctors confirmed he was already deceased.
After he passed away, video footage reveals Riaz’s limp body on a bed in the hospital, covered in blood and with a serious injury to his head. His father stated, “Riaz was murdered due to his past work with the British military. He sacrificed his life for trusting them.”
The Taliban were able to locate CF333 sniper Qahraman at a faster pace. He attempted to board a flight bound for the UK during Operation Pitting, which aimed to evacuate people from Afghanistan, but was denied due to lack of space. The 29-year-old, who goes by a pseudonym to safeguard his family in Afghanistan, ended up staying at his sister’s house in Kabul while he figured out his next steps.
After three weeks, an individual on a motorcycle fatally shot him outside of his home.
Shaheen, the brother of Qahraman who was also a member of the CF333, was able to board a flight to Britain for evacuation in August 2021. From his new residence in the UK, he shared, “My nephew was present when Qahraman was fatally shot, but he was unable to intervene. He rushed him to the hospital, but the medical professionals declared him deceased. He had sustained 15 or 16 gunshot wounds.”
A former sniper, known as Walid to protect his family’s identity, was arrested by the Taliban in a late-night raid at his home two months after the withdrawal of the West. According to a relative, who wishes to remain anonymous, he was brought to an outpost and killed by knives.
The family of Walid found him the next morning, according to their relative. After negotiations with village elders, the Taliban agreed to release his body. The funeral was not elaborate, as they held a private prayer ceremony with a small group of people and buried him discreetly at night.
After the departure of the Western forces, Khair and Mohammad, two brothers who were serving in the military unit, made the decision to escape to Iran. Tragically, they never reached their destination as they were fatally shot while traveling by car towards the Iranian border. The brothers were only 24 and 19 years old.
According to his former commander who is now living in the UK, Nasir (formerly a sergeant in CF333) was reportedly killed by the Taliban in August. The commander stated that he had spoken with Nasir three days prior to his death, during which Nasir revealed that he had been held captive by the Taliban for two weeks and was afraid of being executed.
The leader stated, “I had a conversation with him for one hour after his release and he expressed, ‘Boss, the Taliban will harm me.’ I promised to send him money, but it was already too late.”
Pictures display Nasir’s deceased body lying in a casket, with his head wrapped in a white fabric that seems to be concealing a gory injury.
Nasir expressed concern in a voice message to a friend prior to his passing, mentioning his apprehension about joining a Facebook group for Afghans who had collaborated with British forces, fearing that the Taliban may be monitoring it.
Some members of the Triples units have managed to avoid death, but have suffered permanent injuries as a result of torture. Gul, a former sniper who served in the 333s for 19 years, was captured by the Taliban in July and endured three days of torture. According to his cousin, he was shocked with electricity and made to sit in cold water, causing both mental and physical scars.
In June of this year, the Ministry of Defense rejected Gul’s Arap application, for his safety his name has been altered.
“I would rather my brother had died during the torture than continue to suffer with his safety and mental health issues. He was severely beaten and falsely accused of aiding British forces, and now the Taliban is relentlessly targeting him.”
Mirwais, a former member of ATF444 for 14 years until the fall of Kabul, was captured by the Taliban after risking a visit to his family during Eid in 2022.
The individual, whose identity has been altered for safety reasons, stated: “They came straight to my residence. They assaulted my loved ones, including the children. They blindfolded me and brought me to an unfamiliar location. My family was unaware of my whereabouts for nearly two months.” He also described being subjected to torture through electric shocks and water pipes. Another ex-soldier from 444 who was also held captive and tortured by the Taliban at the same time corroborated Mirwais’s testimony of torture.
A former leader of the 444s group, Rahim, shared that although he requested assistance from the MoD, it was denied. He revealed that he was held captive by the Taliban for a period of four months in 2023. According to him, his family had to pay a significant amount of money to secure his freedom.
“When I was initially apprehended, I was confined in a windowless, non-air conditioned container. It was located under direct sunlight, making it challenging to breathe due to the limited oxygen supply,” said Rahim (name has been altered for privacy). “In addition, I was subjected to multiple beatings throughout the day with thick electric cables. And when they grew tired, they resorted to administering electric shocks.”
He reported being transferred to Pol-e-Charkhi prison in Kabul. During one instance, “they inserted a water pipe in my mouth and turned on the water, making it difficult for me to breathe. They also injected water into my nose with a syringe, causing immense pain. They were pressuring me to confess to collaborating with the British forces and attacking and bombing their homes.”
“They were also pressuring me to disclose the names and contact information of 444 other members of the unit.”
A recent report from the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) revealed that the Taliban has been using various forms of torture, such as physical beatings and electric shocks, to extract confessions or information from detainees. This aligns with the testimonies we have received from the Triples.
British special forces and Afghans fought together as brothers in arms.
In 2002, the UK took on the role of leading the G8’s efforts to combat narcotics in Afghanistan. Using lessons from their involvement in helping Colombia address their drug trade, the UK established CF333, a specialized unit of Afghan soldiers who would work alongside British forces.
Initially created as a counter-narcotics group consisting of approximately 400 members, this unit was meant to assist the UK in dismantling the drug production networks that were funding the Taliban’s acts of terrorism. However, it eventually evolved to possess advanced abilities in counterterrorism and counterinsurgency, aiding the British in locating and apprehending high-ranking members of the Taliban and Al Qaeda.
After some time, this project was extended and the British established the Afghan Territorial Force (ATF444). These two groups were nicknamed “the Triples”.
A former UK military advisor who served with the Triples in Afghanistan during the 2000s stated that they were the primary force fulfilling the UK government’s objectives, making them highly aligned with the country’s strategic interests. These individuals were not simply translators who made some money and left, but rather they risked their lives to actively fight alongside and for the UK.
A retired captain from the UK’s special forces, who was deployed alongside the Triples in Afghanistan for multiple years, characterized it as a “fully interdependent partnership.”
“We were united as one. We shared meals, battles, and even death. It is unacceptable that they are not receiving preferential treatment, especially since the number of individuals involved is not significant. It is clear that we are closely aligned with the British.”
The war veteran mentioned that there were pictures of fallen Triples members displayed on the walls of UKSF offices in the UK, although he was unsure if they were still present.
He stated, “We encouraged them to have faith in a positive and promising future. We assured them of the world and utterly failed to fulfill in any aspect.”
The Independent can jointly reveal that members of both units received a monthly salary from the British government, paid in cash. A few years after they were set up, the units moved to an Afghan government structure under the Ministry of Interior, with the Triples becoming a branch of the Afghan National Police. At this point, soldiers started receiving an official Afghan government salary that was paid into bank accounts as well as their British salary.
A former advisor from Britain verified that the CF333 members were given a monthly payment, with leaders receiving approximately $1,000 each month. He stated that the extra funds were meant to “compensate for their allegiance” to the British.
The United Kingdom aimed to increase the self-sufficiency of the Afghan forces by providing additional monetary benefits based on rank and mission. The British provided guidance, instruction, and compensation to the 333s until the capture of Kabul in August 2021, while the 444 unit was transferred to the Polish forces in 2014.
According to a 2018 army training manual, a pay model known as “top-up” has been officially implemented and can be found online. The manual also mentions an “operational bonus” that was given to soldiers for each day they spent on deployment, resulting in heightened motivation to participate in high tempo operations.
A previous leader of the administration department clarified that the Triples would be given a document containing their salary or mission payment, which they would sign and receive cash for. However, they would then return the document, leaving them without proof of receiving their salaries.
Several past members of Triple Corporation have informed The Independent that this was the method by which they were paid.
As part of this investigation, a document resembling a “payslip” was discovered. It is written in English and shows a salary of $870. It also includes signatures from a Triple member and a UK representative.
According to Simon Diggins, a former defence attaché in Kabul, the Triples underwent changes as the campaign in Afghanistan progressed, largely due to guidance and instruction from the British. “It required strong leadership and guidance.”
He stated: “The matter of British pay stubs appears to be essential. It is a simple fact that we were providing them with payment. There is no room for debate on this.”
According to a report by RAND corporation, a research organization affiliated with the US military, a team of analysts visited the Triples units in 2013 and observed that the soldiers were receiving significantly higher pay than their regular Afghan salaries. The report also evaluated the readiness of the Afghan special forces to operate independently without support from British forces.
A British officer disagreed, informing the analysts that the British had been “guiding” the Afghans rather than “mentoring” or giving them full control.
The British troops had their own designated area for living, however, they were situated within the Afghan base near the Afghan headquarters, dining hall, and unit housing. According to the report, British officers were able to move around freely in the Afghan parts of the base and there were occasions when individuals from both nationalities would share meals together.
One Afghan officer stated that the British invited the Afghans to join them for Christmas dinner, while they extended an invitation for Eid.
A former commander of 333, who was relocated to the United Kingdom in August 2021, discussed their partnership with British special forces, stating: “We were side by side. They remained with us until one month prior to the fall of Afghanistan.”
He stated that roughly 30 of his previous employees who were unable to evacuate have been taken into custody by the Taliban and interrogated about their involvement in CF333. He also mentioned that during the 20-year conflict, they had a fierce battle with the Taliban, who specifically target those associated with CF333. He further stated that if the Taliban identifies someone as a member of CF333, they will be killed without hesitation.
Major General Herbert stated that it was unfair and dishonest to deny former members of 333 and 444 relocation to the UK because they did not directly work with or support the UK armed forces.
It is difficult to determine if this is due to the government’s lack of concern towards this matter or the inadequacy of the government agencies involved.
“These units provided direct assistance to further UK strategic goals in Afghanistan, working alongside UK forces and regularly accompanied by UK military advisors.”
Major General Herbert stated that both units’ members were both feared and hated by the Taliban, and he believes it is impossible for the Taliban to forgive or reconcile with any former members. He also expressed his belief that abandoning any member of these units would be a disgrace to the nation.
The Independent, Lighthouse Reports, and Sky have obtained numerous documents and photos that were submitted to the MoD by the Triples in their requests for assistance.
Certificates for the 444 and 333 training programs are given out and authorized by commanders from Britain and Afghanistan. The certificates display flags from both countries and the insignia of their respective defense ministries.
A member of the 444s group retained a report from 2010 that praised him as “one of the top all-around instructors in the ATF.” In the summer of 2009, he received training in police defensive tactics, including use of force and firearms tactics, from a major in the Hertfordshire Constabulary. He is currently stationed in Afghanistan and awaiting relocation.
A member of CF333 was able to obtain a letter of recommendation from a high-ranking official in the Ministry of Defense, as well as a photo of themselves with Vice Admiral Tim Frazer (former chief of joint operations) and General Patrick Sanders (current chief of the general staff). This member, who belongs to the group “Triples,” has been forced to seek refuge in Iran and was denied resettlement by the MoD in August.
Photos shared include a photo of a meeting room at the Logar base used by Afghan and British mentors to discuss missions and operations. A photo of a wall in the mentor’s mess hall shows a flag made up of one half of the Union Jack and one half of the Afghan flag sewn together.
A certificate of recognition was presented in 2013 to a sergeant with the identification number 444. The certificate, which features the UKSF logo, the British flag, and a line from Kipling’s poem “Gunga Din,” states: “Although I have disciplined and punished you, I believe that the divine being who created you, you are a superior person compared to me, Gunga Din!” Despite being employed by the unit since 2006, the sergeant’s request for resettlement was denied by the Ministry of Defence.
Living in secrecy and poverty
Most of the members of Triples are constantly moving and changing their living situations every few months, making it difficult for them to find steady employment.
Despite having families to support at home, they are facing difficulties in finding enough money to provide food for their loved ones. According to a former sergeant from 444 battalion, his children are suffering from hunger as he has been unable to work since the fall of Kabul. He is currently in a different province from his kids and can only visit them in the middle of the night, leaving early in the morning due to safety concerns.
“I am unable to secure any formal employment and I am currently carrying a bag with me. I am searching for discarded bottles and metal on the ground, which I collect in order to make a living.”
A previous member of the 444 military captured footage of his family’s current living situation. Using a camera, he surveys a sparsely furnished room and reveals nine children and his father seated on the ground. He states, “This is the extent of our possessions, consisting of an old rug and a few other items. We lack windows, so we’ve resorted to using plastic to shield ourselves from extreme temperatures. Unfortunately, we cannot afford to install windows.”
In another situation, a man who was in the CF333 for 15 years shared his struggle to provide basic necessities such as food and housing for himself and his family.
The MoD’s refusal to help
Although some individuals in the Triples group were relocated during Operation Pitting, numerous others were not and relied on the Arap scheme for assistance. In September, the MoD stated in their response to inquiries from Parliament that they were unable to supply information on the quantity of 333s currently residing in the UK or in Afghanistan. They also stated that it was not feasible to give a precise estimate of the number of 333s who have passed away.
The Arap program, as stated on the government’s website, is designed for citizens of Afghanistan who have collaborated or worked with the UK government in high-risk or significant positions.
The Triples, who were employed by the British, were part of the Afghan National Police under the Ministry of Interior. It is believed that decision makers have differentiated them from other Afghans who were formally employed by the UK MoD, such as interpreters and mechanics. Minister James Heappey stated in parliament on 11 September that the Arap program is not specifically for those who served in the Afghan armed forces alongside the British military, but for those who worked for the British military in almost all cases except for a few narrow exceptions.
This role may be violating the established Arap guidelines, which specify that Afghans can qualify if they “served in Afghanistan with a UK government department, in collaboration with or in direct support of that department”, had a significant and beneficial impact on the UK’s military or national security goals, and can demonstrate current risk.
Attorneys from the UK are currently pursuing legal action against the MoD for rejecting former Triple members from relocating. They claim that the process of denying relocation is illegal, as no explanation has been provided for the rejections and there are worries about a uniform policy for denials. The MoD has denied implementing blanket decisions for Arap applications in any group.
Simon Diggins, a former defense attaché, stated that the argument of the Arap provisions not applying to them due to their technical membership in the Ministry of Interior and not direct employment by the British is not valid.
Recent investigations by The Independent, Lighthouse Reports, and Sky have uncovered proof that the applications of the Triples group are not being thoroughly evaluated before being denied. An internal document from the government has shown that any application from a suspected Triples member must receive approval from UKSF, who is responsible for verifying the individual’s involvement within the group and granting approval. However, sources within the Ministry of Defence have stated that UKSF has been unwilling to participate in this process, resulting in numerous blanket rejections.
A retired colonel who was part of the Triples team in Afghanistan stated that the problem lies in the fact that other units within UKSF are not familiar with these individuals and do not prioritize them. Despite being promised extraction, these people are still waiting and hoping for the UK to follow through on their word. This is unacceptable.
A former top diplomat from Britain, Tim Willasey-Wilsey, claims to have given a warning to the Foreign Office prior to the takeover of Afghanistan in 2021. He suggested that preparations be made to evacuate the 333s, but his advice was disregarded at the time. However, more recent discussions with the government regarding the former 333 members’ eligibility for assistance have been more promising, according to Willasey-Wilsey.
The ex-cabinet secretary and former ambassador to Afghanistan, Sir Mark Sedwill, has been urging the government to address the problem with strong efforts. According to Alicia Kearns, the chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Sir Mark has frequently contacted the Home Secretary about the discontinuation of the 333s.
During a recent committee meeting, Ms. Kearns questioned Lord Ahmad, the foreign office minister, about why 333 individuals who clearly meet the criteria are not being brought to the UK under the MoD’s program.
Andrew McCoubrey, the FCDO’s director for Afghanistan and Pakistan, responded: “As I understand it, there are eligibility requirements for some members of the commando force under Arap, but not everyone.”
John Healey, the shadow defence secretary, expressed concern over the news that Afghan Special Forces, who were supported and trained by the UK, are not being given the opportunity to relocate and are still at risk. This serves as a painful reminder of the government’s shortcomings in providing aid to Afghans, leaving families stranded in hotels in Pakistan and putting Afghan lives in danger from the Taliban.
The UK has a moral obligation to help the Afghan people, which is strongly felt by the British military who worked alongside them. There are no more justifications. Government officials must address their inadequate programs for Afghan citizens.
In response to this inquiry, a representative from the Ministry of Defense stated: “The British government has made a bold and generous pledge to assist qualified individuals in Afghanistan. To date, we have successfully evacuated approximately 24,600 people, including numerous individuals who qualify for our Afghan programs.”
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has never given general decisions on applications from any group who have applied to the Arap scheme. Each determination of eligibility is made individually, following specific criteria outlined in the Immigration Rules and considering the evidence provided by each individual.
If the efforts for change are unsuccessful, the government may be compelled to take legal action. However, even if legal measures are effective, it will be too late for those who have already been harmed by the Taliban. At the same time, individuals like Ahmad, who are in hiding, are anxious that they have limited time before they also become victims.
Ahmad reflected on his experience serving in the British armed forces, stating that it is a common occurrence between Afghans and outsiders. Despite thinking they have formed friendships, they are often not present when needed.
The source is the Independent, a British news website.