Report contradicts Defence Ministry on Afghan interpreters

Defence minister offers help to eight Afghan interpreters at high risk of reprisal, but new information raises questions over whether Denmark should offer help to far more

The Defence Ministry did not relay accurate information to parliament about the safety of the Afghan interpreters who assisted Danish forces, according to Information newspaper.

The inaccuracies were exposed in a report prepared by the military’s chief of defence, Peter Bartam, that was delivered to parliament’s defence committee yesterday.

The report revealed that the Defence Ministry knew that five interpreters had been killed and 12 others had been injured while working with Danish forces. In January, the defence minister, Nick Hækkerup (Socialdemokraterne), told Jyllands-Posten newspaper that he did not know of any killed or injured interpreters.

Hækkerup later attempted to clarify that he knew that interpreters had been killed, but not that they were working for Danish forces because that information had not been relayed to him.

The Danish military's lack of accurate information on interpreters was blamed on the fact that Denmark does not directly employ their interpreters, but instead leases them from the US and British forces.

The report states that “[the Defence Command] has been largely dependent upon information made available by foreign partners and the Defence Command therefore only has a limited ability to validate the information.”

The report was commissioned in March by the Defence Ministry following revelations that the Danish forces had used interpreters drawn from their local communities, contradicting repeated statements Hækkerup made to the contrary.

The revelations sparked a debate about Denmark’s responsibility for the safety of interpreters after the NATO-led ISAF forces withdraw from Afghanistan, with many arguing that the interpreters ought to be offered the chance to seek asylum in Denmark.

Hækkerup has previously argued that Denmark has no responsibility to take care of the interpreters. He said that Denmark did not employ them directly and that the interpreters were not drawn from the local communities where they worked, thus making them less susceptible to reprisal attacks from Taleban forces.

Following evidence that at least eight of the 195 interpreters Denmark used were drawn from their local communities, Hækkerup announced yesterday that those individual interpreters would be offered help.

“We need to take all the interpreters into consideration, but these eight are particularly threatened because they have to return to the same local region where they have worked as interpreters,” Hækkerup told Politiken newspaper.

Hækkerup added that the details had yet be agreed upon, but they could involve paying interpreters and their families to relocate to less dangerous areas of the country.

Further revelations in the report question whether Denmark does in fact have responsibility for the safety of more interpreters.

According to the report, the Defence Ministry neglected to tell parliament of at least nine cases in which interpreters drawn from the cities of Kabul and Jalalabad, far from Helmand province where the Danish forces were situated, were threatened by mail or over the phone by the Taleban.

This revelation questions the validity of the ministry’s position that the lives of interpreters drawn from regions of Afghanistan other than where they work are not at risk and thus should not be extended help.

According to an Afghan interpreter who recently spoke to The Copenhagen Post, widespread infiltration of the Afghan National Army by the Taleban means that the identities of interpreters working with the ISAF forces cannot be easily kept secret.

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