Thursday 26 August 2021

''Of course. I understand that. But where is safe then?''


This morning's BBC Breakfast saw Armed Forces Minister James Heappey being interviewed by Naga Munchetty. 

Twitter then caught fire, as usual.

Here's a representative selection of the early tweets from both sides, followed by a transcript of the interview, with Naga's questions in bold and underlined.


Ian Preston: I see that Naga Munchetty has got her stroppy face on again. Armed Forces Minister - There is a very credible threat to people's safety at Kabul airport so we are advising them to go to another place of safety.
Naga - So where would that be?
Minister quite rightly diplomatically didn't answer.
Naga - So where us this place of safety? Again, with stern face.
Minister - Well I'm not going to tell you as it will no longer be safe!
What did she expect him to say!
Come on BBC Breakfast, we can do better than this!

Les Douglass: Naga "Can you tell us what boarder crossings are safe for people to go to escape?" James "No, because the would tell the Taliban where to block their escape"! ..SUCH STUPID QUESTION...WHO WRITES HER COMEDY SCRIPT? It must so difficult for James Heappey to give informative answers from such stupid questions from NAGA. He is either correcting her false assumptions or explaining why her ideas can't work! NAGA Its not the BRITISH Army that abandoned the Afghans! It was the AFGHAN Army! The question is "did NAGA learn anything from James Heapey"? No. She did not understand a word...Thanks James, most of us did understand!

Hmmmm?: British soldiers and govt officials risking their lives to get British and Afghan vulnerable out and Naga Munchetty implies they are being abandoned "is it fair to say they've been abandoned?" What a bloody disgrace she is.

Annie_MacF: FFS. Naga M is a real nasty piece of work! Suggesting the people now in trouble due to ISIS in Kabul are being abandoned. Other Q & tone confrontational all the way through interview with James Heappey MP who was great. It was as if we had caused this.

JD: Naga, your aggressive line of questioning/interrogation isn’t clever or pleasant to watch. “Can you guarantee” seems to be one of your favourite questions in situations where clearly no guarantees would ever be possible.

Steve Weston: Despite moronic questions from Naga. Stop, stop, stop asking for specific timings, you are going to get people killed. I can't say why because I have integrity. The general UK audience does NOT need those answers. The Defence Minister's tolerance was excellent.

kirsty: [James Heappey] was doing his job by acting responsibly to protect the lives of the UK nationals, the Afghan people and our armed forces personnel by refusing to answer questions about the threat. I usually enjoy Naga’s interactions but her questions this morning were unrealistic.


BenDelaBen: Naga did her job. Being a journalist = Asking Hard Questions. The MOD Dodged half the questions with very vague answers.

Jangli Billu (Wild Cat): Love to see Naga Munchetty upsetting the natives again. Her name tending means the bigots are upset. She just needs to appear and the frothing starts.

Gwinnie: ‘Naga’ is trending so assume the gammon are out, yet again, attacking that poor woman on BBC Breakfast. She takes so much abuse every day she’s on. Wonder why?

J.-P. Janson De Couët: What it about Naga Munchetty that rattles gammon cages?

Peadar Mac Ciarraí: I love how all the Karens pretend their issue with Naga is anything other than pure racism.

Giorgio: Welcome to journalism. It's about holding people to account. Be honest what really upsets you is the colour of her skin and the fact that she confronts societal ugly truths and misconceptions. Naga is brilliant.


We're joined now by Armed Forces Minister, James Heappey. Good morning to you. 
Morning Naga. 
Morning. OK, so what details, if any, can you give of this imminent threat? 
I can't share with you the exact detail with you of what the threat is, that I can say that over the course of the week the credibility of the reporting has reached the stage where we believe that there is a very imminent, highly lethal attack possible within Kabul, and as a consequence we have had to change the travel advice to advise people not to come to the airport, to move away from the airport and find a place of safety and await further instructions. 
Do you have a timeline?
OK. Where is safe then? If the environs of the airport is not safe, where is safe for those people who are waiting to leave the country? 
Well, as you're seeing on your TV screens I suspect already this morning, to an awful lot of people even knowing that the US, the Australians, the UK are giving the advice that we are now giving an awful lot of people still feel that the airport is the safest place. That is a concern because the crowds are still very large and that reflects I think the desperation that people have, and I suspect that people realise that by not coming to the airport with the 31st August still the deadline everybody is working to this isn't just a case of pausing, dealing with the threat and picking up where we left off. The reality is that the clock continues to tick even whilst we are having to give the advice that we are giving and asking people to stay away, but we know how desperate people's circumstances are. We would not be sharing the intelligence or the threat that we know of if we did not think it was credible, imminent and lethal. 
Of course. I understand that. But where is safe then? If there are people in Kabul who would have made their way to the airport to pass certain checkpoints in order to be able to get on transport to leave the country, if they're not supposed to do that where physically do they go now? 
Well, I can't advise them to go to any one place. In fact, you might see that to do so would simply be to advertise to Islamic State that there is another place that we are asking eligible people to go and concentrate, and that in itself becomes a target. The reality is that we are asking people to move away from the airport. You might argue that anywhere that isn't a large crowd in an obvious place that IS would target is a safer place, but the reality is - as you will see on tv - that there are still very large crowds outside the airport and that's a real concern for everybody. 
I mean, one of the processing centres - or the processing centre - is a hotel which is in the middle of the area where people are people told to avoid, so what does that mean in terms of processing people? 
It means I'm afraid exactly as it sounds, that we have processed 1,988 people or we have flown out 1,988 people in the last 24 hours. We have taken as many into the hotel as we physically could at the time when the threat reporting came as urgent as it was, but the reality is that clearly if we are asking people to move away we are effectively also saying that that reduces our capacity to process people. Now you may well see footage of people who have ignored the advice and remained in the queue that we are desperately trying to protect them by bringing them inside as quickly as we are able to, but that should not encourage people to travel to the airport because... 
So, OK...
I cannot stress the desperation of the situation enough. The threat is credible, it is imminent, it is lethal. We wouldn't be saying this if we were not genuinely concerned about offering Islamic State a target that is just unimaginable. 
If you are not in the hotel at this moment in time, will you be able to get into the hotel to be processed? If you are not in the hotel at this time, does that mean that, while this threat exists, there is no chance of being processed? 
I am not able to guarantee that if you are not in the hotel at the moment that you may have the opportunity to be processed. But I should stress that that is under constant review. We are not wanting to end the process at this point. We just have to be honest and responsible with the intelligence we have. 
Of course, of course, but it is now the 26th of August and the deadline is the 30th, at 11:59 at night, on either the 30th or on the 31st of August, that's not yet clear. So is there any indication that this threat may be over before then? 
The reality is that we have no depth in country in order to be able to go out and interdict the threat. We are effectively holding the hotel and the airport and providing security to that. And we are confident in our ability to secure that. Clearly what happens outside the immediate perimeter is to target, but when you have got so few troops on the ground, and when you have got no depth in the city beyond the airport, our ability to go out and find the threat and deal with it is very limited indeed. So I fear that this is a judgment to be made on the balance of probabilities between IS's ability to mount the attack that we have intelligence to say is imminent versus our desire to get out as many people as possible. We are not being overly cautious, I promise you. 
Of course. How many British citizens haven't been processed? Is there an estimate available? And those Afghans who are eligible to leave the country and be evacuated by the UK, how many...what numbers are we talking about who are not yet being processed or in that hotel? 
British citizens, it is very, very hard to nail down. There have been colleagues in the Foreign Office who have been trying to get hold of some people for weeks and then they get hold of them and it turns out they are already in Dubai. Our working number is we think there are around 400 eligible people, mostly British citizens, dual nationals, in country. Clearly we are working hard to find routes to safety for them, and indeed for those that remain under the ARAP scheme. But I hope you will understand that, given the threat, the last thing we would do is advertise what advice we might offer to those who have moved away to a place of safety, because in advertising it we risk making that alternative provision, if we are able to find an alternative provision, a target in itself. So it is suboptimal in terms of my ability to give you the detail what you quite understandably want, but... 
And I appreciate that, but how are they getting the information? How would they get the information? I appreciate you cannot advertise it, there is a security issue, but are they getting that information, those 400 who have not gone through the system yet? 
That is the job of work for the Foreign and Commonwealth Crisis Unit last night and today. There will be people who are absolutely desperate to have heard this news at what they know is the back end of the evacuation process. It is a concern for all of us that they are still there in the first place. The advice has been to leave for many months now, but a number of people have chosen to stay. Some of them, journalists for example, who have a... 
And some of them Afghan who love...and some of them Afghans who love their country and wouldn't want to leave because they didn't want to see it in that position. So can you guarantee...
You asked me about eligible people and I am just pointing out that there are some who do not want to leave at all. There are some who have, for various reasons, needed to stay until the very end. We are in the process of contacting them to try to discuss with them what their options might be for getting them to safety. But this is a very dynamic, very challenging situation, and I just have to be really honest with people and say that there is every possibility, as we've been saying all the way through, that we will not get everybody out. And the security situation worsening, as it has, makes that more likely. 
If you don't get them out, is it fair to say they have been abandoned? 
I don't think that would be a fair reflection of what has happened over the last ten or 11 days. 12,279 people have been brought out. We have been clear all the way through that there will inevitably be the reality that not everybody can be brought out and I think that whilst they personally might feel that, the reality is that we will have done our absolute best, militarily. Judgments will then be made I think about the political decision-making and the route to being in this situation in the first place. But I want to pay tribute to the Royal Air Force particularly for the way that they have facilitated the air lift over the last few weeks. 12,279 people is over 5,000 more than we thought we were going to need to evacuate from Kabul when this mission began. It is an extraordinary effort. But that is no consolation whatsoever to the people who are fearing that they are not going to get out. And that is why I say those numbers with no sense of triumph or accomplishment. I know that there are people who will feel desperate that they have not been one of those 12,000 who has been brought out.
The French Prime Minister has said that from tomorrow evening onwards we may no longer be able to evacuate people from Afghanistan. That is from the French Prime Minister. Is the UK in a similar position? 
I am not going to comment on the remaining time line for our evacuation flights. 
James Heappey, Armed Forces Minister, thank you very much for talking to us on Breakfast
Thank you very much indeed.

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