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Last Updated: Sunday, 3 September 2006, 10:20 GMT 11:20 UK
Afghan accident?
On Sunday 03 September 2006, Andrew Marr interviewed Des Browne MP, Defence Secretary

Please note "BBC Sunday AM" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

Des Browne
Des Browne MP, Defence Secretary

ANDREW MARR: Good morning Mr Browne.

DES BROWNE: Morning Andrew.

ANDREW MARR: A dreadful inc.., a dreadful incident this clearly. Can you give us any indication as to what the Nimrod was actually doing? There have been reports that it was supporting an SAS mission.

DES BROWNE: The Nimrod was doing what Nimrods do day and daily to support our troops on the ground, both in Iraq and Afghanistan and that is it was doing surveillance work.

It had on board its crew of course and also had liaison troops on board who were in communication from there to the ground.

You will understand that for operational reasons I don't want to go into detail but the Nimrod has proved to be a very effective support to our troops on the ground and we've been deploying Nimrod in this fashion ever since the Balkans.

ANDREW MARR: Indeed. You've said that you're pretty sure that this was an accident, a tragic accident, rather than an act by the Taliban, though they've claimed they shot it down. Are you absolutely sure about that?

DES BROWNE: Well the investigation of course continues. I, I would say - and I said this last night and I repeat it today - that the Taliban regularly lie in response to events in Afghanistan.

We, they have in the past consistently lied you know about what our troops have been doing in certain communities. And it is at the heart of their propaganda that they are dishonestly representing what our troops are there to do to the people of Afghanistan. From the early, from the early time that we knew of this incident the indications were very clear that this had been some sort of tragic accident.

The reason that we, that I have been so strong in relation to this is because immediately after we announced the loss of this plane yesterday, there were those who appeared on the media speculating about what had happened. Not only were they speculating about the nature of the incident but they were speculating about the nature of the aircraft. Now our normal focus in these circumstances is to preserve certain information for the sake of the families involved.

But we felt yesterday that the speculation was so irresponsible that we had to make very clear what we knew as quickly as possible to reassure the families of those who were serving in Afghanistan and to put the information into the public domain that we thought we could put into the public domain. But clearly the investigation will continue but all the indications are that this was some form of tragic accident and indeed, as you have reported, there was communication with this aircraft, before it crashed ..

ANDREW MARR: Right.

DES BROWNE: .. which has supported that view.

ANDREW MARR: Can you reassure the families and indeed everybody else that you will publish the conclusions of this investigation even if it turns out embarrassing to the government in some way?

DES BROWNE: Well of course I can give that reassurance. I mean there is now, I think a well recognised response to incidents where we lose people in action that we, that we have independent boards of investigation. And those boards of investigation they, they are shared in detail with the families and to the extent that they can be they are published. They're only redacted in any way, they're only edited in any way where there is information in relation to them that if it was in the public domain would put our troops at risk.

ANDREW MARR: You talked about speculation. There has been a fair amount of speculation and discussion about the level of air support. Whether helicopters and aircraft such as the Nimrod are simply over strained, given the amount of work they have to do to support the troops on the ground. There are more troops than there used to be. Can you comment on that?

DES BROWNE: Well what I would say was, in relation to Afghanistan, that there is no correlation between this incident and those who consistently comment about the nature of the resources there, the criticisms they make about the nature of the resources that we deploy to support our troops.

Those who have been following developments in Afghanistan will know that we deployed a significant force in the first place to do a very, a very specific job there, but we recognise that that job would bring with it certain dangers and risks and we supported our troops for example with the deployment of attack helicopters.

In response to requests that came from Theatre after the deployment had taken place I announced in July, before parliament broke up, the deployment of additional resources and been in the process of deploying those resources including additional helicopter support ..

ANDREW MARR: There's no sense ..

DES BROWNE: .. to, to Afghanistan.

ANDREW MARR: Sure.

DES BROWNE: But we, we, but we respond to the operational requirements of those who are on the ground who describe to us what they need to do on the basis of their own experience.

ANDREW MARR: I mean is there any concern in your mind simply put that this was an elderly plane and you were overworking it?

DES BROWNE: Let me just say to you that, two things which I think are very important. One is that the RAF has an exemplary record you know of maintaining and supporting its aircrafts, they support them to the very highest standards.

And secondly that this particular aircraft, the Nimrod you know has served very well over its lifetime and been a very safe aircraft. It has a very good safety record and these aircrafts are maintained to the very highest standards.

ANDREW MARR: I think when this operation began and your predecessor talked about the possible limited nature of the operation in Afghanistan no one understood or thought that we were going to be involved in quite such a hot and complicated war. Do you accept there is now the need for a debate in parliament and a wider political debate about the nature of our mission there?

DES BROWNE: Well I mean I, I, we have had such debates. Indeed you know I led a debate in parliament about this very incident myself. And I have made statements in parliament and addressed this question consistently.

There is no view across parliament that there is an alternative to what we're having to do with the international community in Afghanistan. We should remember why we're there in the first place and the nature of this country when it was entirely lawless and was effectively a training ground for terrorists.

We have to respond to this. We made, with our international partners, significant progress in the north and west. It was always our intention to, to turn then to the south and to the east which were considered to be much more difficult and much more dangerous places.

And can I just take this opportunity to once again you know scotch the kind of constant repeating of and misrepresentation of what John Reid said about the deployment of our troops. He made it very clear and those who take the time to read his statements in full rather than editing them down will realise that he made it very clear that there were significant dangers. And I repeat again the nature of the troops ..

ANDREW MARR: Yes.

DES BROWNE: .. and the configuration of those troops that we put onto the ground in Afghanistan and the support that we gave them which are very, I think very clear evidence that we understood the danger of this. This was ..

ANDREW MARR: ... all right.

DES BROWNE: .. this is a country which has been at war for thirty years.

ANDREW MARR: Indeed.

DES BROWNE: And the Afghans themselves have lost two million of their own people seeking their freedom. We have an international responsibility to these people and to ourselves ..

ANDREW MARR: All right.

DES BROWNE: .. to see this through.

ANDREW MARR: Mr Browne thank you very much indeed ..

DES BROWNE: Thank you.

ANDREW MARR: .. for joining us this morning. That's good of you.

INTERVIEW ENDS


NB: this transcript was typed from a recording and not copied from an original script.

Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy


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