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BBC BREAKFAST WITH FROST INTERVIEW
GENERAL SIR CHARLES GUTHRIE SEPTEMBER 10TH, 2000

Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used

DAVID FROST
Now it's very rare that you get dramatic breaking military news and the key figure of the moment coinciding live while we're on the air, the two together is really rare but that's just what's happening here this morning. In the last few minutes we've learnt that British soldiers in Sierra Leone have this morning undertaken military action aimed at releasing the British hostages who have been held in the jungle for the last fortnight. There's nothing on the wires yet, nothing is publicly known but the man who knows more than anyone else, who has the latest information is with us, he's the head of the Army and the Navy and the Air Force, General Sir Charles Guthrie, good morning Charles, this sounds like amazing breaking news, good news.

CHARLES GUTHRIE
Well I hope it's good news, we think it's good news, we decided to attack the place where the hostages were being kept at half past six this morning. So the situation is still very confused, there is fighting going on but the first indications are that the hostages are safe, I don't know what condition they're in but they are safe. I don't know whether we've had any casualties, we didn't want to have to do this, we didn't want to have assault because it's a very difficult operation, there are big risks in it but we have done it and the reason we did it is because really our negotiations were getting nowhere. The hostages had been there for three weeks, they were threatening to kill them, or they were threatening to move them to different parts of Sierra Leone and once they'd done that we'd never be able to recover from┐with ease which I hope we've done this morning. So it's very difficult, but I do want to stress this is a very, very tricky, complicated operation we're doing a long way away in very difficult terrain where, working as a team with the Foreign Office, with the police our ministers have had some tough decisions to take because if it goes wrong we're in trouble.

DAVID FROST
Did, in fact, the Prime Minister okay the mission?

CHARLES GUTHRIE
Yes the Prime Minister has taken a close interest in it, yeah.

DAVID FROST
So he's okayed it?

CHARLES GUTHRIE
Yes he okayed it.

DAVID FROST
And┐

CHARLES GUTHRIE
He did it because we were getting nowhere and either the West Side Boys negotiators didn't turn up at meetings or when they did come they gave us demands which were undeliverable and yesterday it got bad and that's why we did it.

DAVID FROST
Right, the, you were forced into it by the West Side Boys and the and we don't know what the casualty situation was?

CHARLES GUTHRIE
No we don't, this is┐as I said fighting is still going on, there was when I walked in here, by the end of the programme I'll be able, I might be able to give you a bit more information but it is confusion, I wouldn't want to say too much at this stage because we just don't know.

DAVID FROST
But the situation there has, has proved so complex hasn't it, really, in a way with revolutionaries and ex-revolutionaries and I mean, and the fact that I remember you saying that you thought the troops would be out in the middle of June or whatever and we're still there and does this mean we'll stay longer or shorter?

CHARLES GUTHRIE
Well I didn't, I didn't actually say that, what I did say was that the first number of troops who went in there to make sure that our nationals and friendly nationals were safe and to secure the airport, they would be out by June and that is exactly what did happen. But we had plans long before that to help the democratically elected government of Sierra Leone, we must remember they're democratically elected, to train an army, to train an army which understood what political control, which understood the human rights are important and to give them some security because a country, a democratic government has to have a security force which can look after its country.

DAVID FROST
Absolutely and it's an example too of, how many, how many missions around the world have you got at the moment?

CHARLES GUTHRIE
Well I know there are 14 going on of course some of them are very small but we've got Bosnia, Kosovo, we've still got 14,000 people tied up in Northern Ireland but we have brought our numbers down quite a lot. This time last year some 47 per cent of the Navy, Army and the Air Force were on operations, that's gone down to 27 per cent, I'd like to drive it down a little bit more because people are very busy, I do have a bit of a retention problem in the services, I think one of the reasons is that people are so busy that they don't see their families and certainly my Secretary of State is absolutely determined to make sure we can get back and have a slightly more normal life and do the kind of training we do need to do so that we can maintain our position in the top league. Some people, I like to think, but though we may not be the biggest services in the world we're still the best and we intend to keep it that way.

DAVID FROST
And what percentage of your, of your men would be abroad in any one moment like now, on a mission, I mean 50,000 or what?

CHARLES GUTHRIE
No not as many as that, I should think 10,000, probably not as much as that even.

DAVID FROST
The rest are at home?

CHARLES GUTHRIE
Yes and we still have quite large numbers in Germany.

DAVID FROST
Are we, are we in fact, would you say in terms of looking at the overall picture, are we as they say overstretched in terms of commitments versus numbers of officers and men?

CHARLES GUTHRIE
Well I would like to see the commitments cut a bit but the services are there for doing things, they want to do things but they do want to get balance, they want to get balance between training and home life and, and, and going on operations and most people join the services because they want to go on operations, they want to, you've got to get a balance.

DAVID FROST
Well that's right isn't it, because some people say that with the recruitment problems you're what, 5,000 under strength at the moment, people say, does danger work as a, as an attraction in recruiting or a negative?

CHARLES GUTHRIE
Well it does for some people, I'm not sure if it's an attraction for people's parents but a lot of people who join the services still want to travel, they want some excitement, they want some challenges and all I can say is if there are people like that who are perhaps listening to us at the moment and they want to do that they can do it with us and get paid for it.

DAVID FROST
Right and what about all this, this list of things, Charles, about the number of things that, weapons that you've been supplied with and things that haven't worked, the radios, the transmission, people using mobile phones instead, replacement radios, subs out of service, guns that don't fire properly or jam, the SA80 and so on, it sounds a sort of horrific thing for you to contend with?

CHARLES GUTHRIE
Well we certainly have got some weapon systems which we are worried about, you mention the radios, well we are actually just embarking and going for a new programme of, of communications equipment.

DAVID FROST
Is that the Bowman one?

CHARLES GUTHRIE
Yes it is, now some people are using mobile phones but it seems a thoroughly sensible thing to do as long as they're not giving secure things aware. It's, particularly if it's a non-operational, I don't have any problem about that. But I think it's very easy to forget that the British forces are probably as well equipped today as they ever have been. If you look at the Army they've got a brand new tank which we're delighted with. If you look at the Navy they have got two aircraft carriers, they've got a new type of frigate coming in. If you look at the Air Force, since Kosovo we're bringing in secure communications. So it's not all gloom. Now people do pick up the bad stories but I wouldn't want that to colour people to make people not think that the British forces are well-equipped, they are well equipped. It's a hugely difficult problem equipping forces, we're very high-tech, we have to take risks with producing equipment, to stay ahead of what the enemy are doing.

DAVID FROST
Exactly so that comes into play there and people have said for instance on the submarines that the majority of our nuclear class submarines apparently out of service, is that true or not?

CHARLES GUTHRIE
Well we are, I'm not quite sure whether it's the majority or not but we obviously take huge amount of care over nuclear submarines. We've never had an accident with nuclear submarines for 40 years, since we've been running them so that just shows you just how careful we are and they are being looked at, there's a fault detected so we're checking on the other ones, it seems thoroughly sensible.

DAVID FROST
What, what do you think happened to the Russian submarine?

CHARLES GUTHRIE
I don't really know but it seems to me that they had some catastrophic explosions probably involved in a new piece of equipment but I'm pretty sure, in fact I'm absolutely sure that it wasn't an underwater collision which some people have suggested and there's been some pretty fanciful ideas about what had happened, I think it was just a very serious accident.

DAVID FROST
Just a very serious accident. That picture on the front page of the Telegraph, someone's been very efficient and tidied up the papers on the floor there, but that of the girl who, with the terrible human rights record, who we were training, is that inevitable in a situation like Sierra Leone, that you can't, you can't pick and choose, you can't be choosy?

CHARLES GUTHRIE
Well we are as choosy as we can be, I mean I don't know the history of this woman.

DAVID FROST
No.

CHARLES GUTHRIE
I mean it sounds a ghastly story which I read this morning too and she, the Sierra Leone Police will be taken, will be told about her, I can imagine they will take action. But our job is to take some people, not people like her but people who get sifted by the police and we can't do much sifting ourselves and make sure they understand about human rights and the kind of things she's alleged to have been up to are absolutely unacceptable, that's why we're there.

DAVID FROST
Do you think there has been an element of mission creep in Sierra Leone?

CHARLES GUTHRIE
Well I think mission creep is a sort of clever dick buzz word which gets pushed around by the people. There was no mission creep as far as the airfield was concerned, there was no mission creep as far as evacuating our nationals. We said what we'd do, we said what we'd leave with and we left. We were always going to have a training team, a training team started before this trouble had begun, now what has happened, we have actually got more people on the ground doing the training at the moment because we want to do it quickly and it's very urgent. Once that's happened we will draw our numbers down, I don't really call that mission creep, I call it commonsense.

DAVID FROST
Good word to substitute, good word to substitute. Well we're thrilled with the good news this morning I mean the fighting is going on but as far as you understand our six men are safe?

CHARLES GUTHRIE
As far as I understand it but I do, I do caution everybody this, this may have some way to go yet and what we're doing is a dangerous and difficult thing.

DAVID FROST
Right well if we may after the news this morning we'll come back to you at the end of the programme, may we do that?

CHARLES GUTHRIE
Certainly.

DAVID FROST
Thank you very much Sir Charles Guthrie, thank you very much indeed.

UPDATE ON HOSTAGE RESCUE AFTER NEWS

DAVID FROST
Well now joining us once more we're delighted to have General Sir Charles Guthrie with the latest news of that dramatic story, if you've just switched on the news, that our men moved in to save the six men who were held for almost three weeks, and what, what's the latest on their situation?

CHARLES GUTHRIE
Well I've just had it confirmed that the hostages are safe, they are secure but the situation is still confused down there, there is still trouble in the area and it is a very difficult bit of terrain, it's jungle, it's scrub, it's very difficult to see very far in it, so it'll be some time before we know exactly what's happened. I hope for the best, I hope it has been a great success, we all want it, but I'm not triumphalist at the moment.

DAVID FROST
Right but we haven't heard of any casualties either among the hostages or among our men?

CHARLES GUTHRIE
No but I wouldn't rule them out because this is a difficult and dangerous operation.

DAVID FROST
How many, how many men, where did they come from the men?

CHARLES GUTHRIE
Well I don't want to get too drawn about where they come, come from, but all I can tell you, we had the appropriate forces there.

DAVID FROST
They come from, they come from England anyway?

CHARLES GUTHRIE
Yes.

DAVID FROST
And, and so the next step is obviously to get them home, home as fast as possible and to continue the rest of the mission?

CHARLES GUTHRIE
Yes, yes I mean both the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have said we are not going to work, walk away from Sierra Leone, we've gone there to help and that's what we're going to do.

DAVID FROST
So that, that mission goes on?

CHARLES GUTHRIE
Yes.

DAVID FROST
Do you have any time scale on how long we'll be needed there?

CHARLES GUTHRIE
No I haven't but our aim is to do the job and come home as quickly as possible, I think that numbers which we have there will be cut pretty dramatically by the end of this year but we will keep people going on making sure that their training is on course and reminding them what they're there for.

DAVID FROST
Thank you very much indeed Charles, thank you and congratulations in fact on the good news that the┐that part we know, the six are safe.

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