Guards at the British Embassy in Kabul are pleading for their lives after apparently being told that they are ineligible for rescue because they were hired through an outsourced contractor.
Most of the 125-person team of security personnel received letters explaining they were not eligible for help because they ‘were not directly employed by Her Majesty’s Government’. Security for all British embassies globally was outsourced decades ago.
The guards at the Embassy in Kabul are employed by security firm GardaWorld. Meanwhile, personnel who were doing the same work for the now-closed US Embassy under a separate GardaWorld contract have been evacuated, and others are receiving support from the Americans.
The guards are now pleading with the British Government to reconsider its decision to refuse their applications. One told the Guardian: ‘We worked in frontline positions, doing the most dangerous work to keep British officials safe. We risked our lives for them, and now we find ourselves in this bad situation – not just us, but our families are at risk.’
The allegations are likely to put British ministers under further pressure to redouble efforts to evacuate as many people as possible. It follows reports this week of rescue flights leaving Afghanistan with just a handful of people on board, while thousands of people struggle outside the airport as they try to escape the threat of persecution under the new Taliban regime.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace insisted that Britain is using ‘every space possible’ on its rescue flights and stressed ‘every hour counts’ in the evacuation effort. He added that Western forces are working to ensure ‘not a single seat is wasted’.
However, at least one RAF jet had been forced to leave Afghanistan half-empty because Taliban militants were refusing to let people get to the airport, according to the Times.
Several British Embassy guards told the paper that after helping British diplomats get to Kabul airport on Saturday night, they were told by phone that their services were no longer provided, and were asked to hand back computers, body armour and radios.
More than 100 guards at the British Embassy in Kabul are pleading for their lives after apparently being told that they are not eligible for rescue because they were hired through an outsourced contractor
General view showing people near the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 19, 2021
Taliban patrol as nation celebrate the 102nd Independence Day in Kandahar, Afghanistan
Satellite images have revealed the extent of the crisis at Kabul airport, with cars crammed up against the southern civilian entrance and northern military entrance that can be seen from satellites
Taliban fighters have now encircled the airport in Kabul and are deciding who gets to come in and who has to stay out. Checkpoints have been set up on both the civilian south side of the airport and the military north side, with gunshots fired in both locations to keep crowds back
Troops fired gunshots and let off stun grenades at the entrance to the northern military side of the airport overnight in a vain bid to keep crowds of thousands from rushing the gates
‘We haven’t sent out a single empty plane so far’: Ben Wallace insists ‘not one seat is wasted’ on RAF flights out of Kabul despite scenes of carnage at airport – with 250 more families set to be evacuated today
Ben Wallace insisted the UK has not flown any empty planes out of Kabul despite carnage at the airport and fears the Taliban are blocking access.
The Defence Secretary said Western forces were working together to ensure that ‘not a single seat is wasted’ on the evacuation flights.
He said ‘the Taliban are letting through our people’ with 120 families being airlifted today, and another 138 families to follow later.
Mr Wallace stressed the desperate efforts to get people out will continue as long as US forces are in charge of the airport – with Joe Biden suggesting he could keep troops in place beyond his previous August 31 deadline.
Responding to reports that evacuation flights to other countries had left with only a handful of people on board, Mr Wallace told Times Radio: ‘Our people are getting through, we haven’t sent a single empty plane home.
‘And I don’t think many other nations have. I can’t speak for other nations, obviously, but fundamentally, the key here is when we have a plane if we have a single empty seat, we will offer it to other nations.
‘We’ve taken out interpreters who work for Nato, for example, we’ve taken out fellow European or other… we took some Japanese people out recently who were in need, so we will use every space on our planes possible.’
Nearly all 160 GardaWorld employees working on the British Embassy contract applied for help from the Ministry of Defence-run Afghan relocations and assistance policy, designed to assist people working for UK organisations, and all except 21 translators were rejected last month.
According to the Guardian, they received letters explaining they were not eligible because they ‘were not directly employed by Her Majesty’s Government’.
The letters added: ‘We realise this will be disappointing news’. Most of the guards are male, but about 10 are women, responsible for frisking female visitors to the diplomatic compound among other things.
One GardaWorld HR manager claimed he was asked to prepare termination letters for many of the British Embassy guards last week, and that the process had been disrupted by the Taliban takeover of the country.
Oliver Westmacott, the president of GardaWorld’s Middle East operations, denied that formal termination letters had been sent out. Asked if the guards were still GardaWorld employees, he said: ‘Technically they are because we haven’t communicated with them formally to the contrary.
‘I fully appreciate the predicament that all these poor people of ours are in, in desperate situations trying to sort their lives out and get to safety. So, it is a nightmare. We fully recognise that.’
The Ministry of Defence said the guards were welcome to reapply for the relocation scheme.
A spokesman for the Foreign Office added: ‘We are clear there is absolutely no legitimate basis to prevent civilians from travelling to safety. We are monitoring the situation with GardaWorld closely and remain in contact with them to provide any required assistance.’
Ministers have also been told that the last evacuation flight could leave Kabul in five days – before the planned US withdrawal from Afghanistan on August 31 – and that the accelerated timetable could result in more British nationals and Afghans being left behind.
Government sources told the paper that ministers have ‘not agreed any date for either the end of the evacuation or the departure of the military’, and would prefer an orderly evacuation over a longer period than a hasty 24-hour scuttle to get as many people out as possible.
US State Department spokesman Ned Price said in Washington that 6,000 people were cleared for evacuation Thursday and were expected to board military flights in coming hours.
British citizens and dual nationals residing boarding a military plane at the airport in Kabul
Evacuees boarding a C-17 Globemaster III during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport
US Marines assigned to 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit escort evacuees during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul
A baby is handed over to the American army over the perimeter wall of the airport for it to be evacuated, in Kabul
Westerners and visa holders trying to get to their flights say they are unable to get to the gates because of the crowd of up to 50,000 desperate locals who are gathering outside the airport and begging US and British troops to let them through.
US troops have been firing warning shots to disperse thousands of desperate Afghans outside the airport, with footage taken on Wednesday night showing stun grenades flashing beside the perimeter. Expats who tried to get through the gate claimed the shots were fired by Western forces.
At the main entrance, Taliban fighters periodically fire into the air to clear the crowd in an attempt to disperse the crowd – but video of the fighters unleashing a volley of automatic fire shows the terrifying gauntlet evacuees have to negotiate.
Taliban fighters were seen shooting over the heads of crowds, striking people with rifles, while those on the ground reported beatings and whippings being dished out seemingly at random. Crowds have also gathered at the entrance to the military wing of the airport, which is guarded by US and British troops who have been firing into the air to disperse the crowds.
Westerners face a race against time to get out of Kabul, with control of the airport resting on the up to 60,000 troops. Joe Biden has said they will stay until all US citizens are evacuated, but there are suspicions among British troops that they could leave abruptly – leaving the 600 British unable to keep operating to evacuate UK nationals and interpreters.