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The vital role of interpreters in Helmand

This news article was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Hundreds of local interpreters are employed by coalition forces in Afghanistan and are vital in helping British forces forge the important relationships with the Afghan communities they are working with

The relationships between troops and local communities are important in many ways; for example, once a connection has been made with locals in Afghan villages, British troops are often able to access information which can prepare them for imminent insurgent attacks or IED threats.

Around 630 Afghan interpreters are employed by coalition forces in Helmand, and many can go out on patrols and operations with troops up to four times a day.

Major Jamie Forbes of the Labour Support Unit said:

I’d say they’re absolutely crucial to glue the whole operation together. Effectively there would be no partnership with the ANSF [Afghan National Security Forces] or the ANA [Afghan National Army] if they weren’t around.

As well as being in danger on the front line, the interpreters have to protect their identities to ensure their families do not come under the scrutiny of the Taliban.

One interpreter, who cannot be named for security reasons, said:

I do not tell my friends or my neighbours that I’m working in the role that I’m doing because it is a threat to me and my family. Someone I know may have a relation with the enemy, the Taliban.

It worries me, but we have to do it because the troops are here to support our country and we have to help them. They are putting their lives in danger to help us, so we should help them.

Corporal Natasha Richards, Royal Military Police, uses a local interpreter, whose features have been disguised for security reasons, to instruct up-and-coming members of the Afghan National Police in Musa Qal'ah (stock image)
Corporal Natasha Richards, Royal Military Police, uses a local interpreter, whose features have been disguised for security reasons, to instruct up-and-coming members of the Afghan National Police in Musa Qal'ah (stock image) [Picture: Staff Sergeant Will Craig

In addition to their official roles, the interpreters have been known to save the lives of British troops.

Major Forbes said:

We’ve certainly had occasions when they have gone above and beyond in terms of valour. We have two who are currently being recommended for commendations for acts of bravery in the field, one of whom was working on a patrol that came under fire.

One of the guys went down, the stretcher party came in, one of those guys was shot and the interpreter took the corner of the stretcher and crawled with the remaining team across open ground for 25 minutes under fire and got the casualty out alive.