Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has told MPs how he resorted to texting a foreign counterpart in a bid to secure urgent military helicopters which were needed to ferry thousands of trapped Britons out of war-torn Sudan.
Speaking in front of the Parliamentary Defence Sub-Committee on Tuesday, the Defence Secretary revealed that he was able to bypass formal channels and use his ministerial connections to secure Chinooks for the evacuations in Sudan.
Mr Wallace told MPs: “I have been able to do stuff on Sudan through ministerial connections quicker than practically the formal system.
“I needed to forward base some Chinooks. I texted a counterpart in another country, bang, got it in 24 hours, just because sometimes in some of those countries it is run by one person and you have to just do that.”
Pressed on how efforts to rescue thousands of British nations stranded in Sudan, Mr Wallace insisted that he was pleased with the progress so far.
British nationals are being processed for evacuation at an airfield in Sudan after an RAF mission was launched during a “volatile” ceasefire brokered between the warring factions.
Mr Wallace has already announced that around 120 British troops are supporting the operation at the Wadi Saeedna airfield, near the capital, Khartoum.
He told MPs on Tuesday that Royal Marines are scoping out a possible seaborne evacuation from the more “benign environment” of Port Sudan, some 500 miles from the capital.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak authorised the operation late on Monday night after facing criticism for failing to airlift anyone other than British diplomats and their families over the weekend.
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British passport holders are being urged to make their way to the airfield, where they will be able to board flights to RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus before being flown to the UK.
Priority on the flights will be given to the most vulnerable, with more than 2,000 citizens having registered in Sudan with the Foreign Office.
Foreign Secretary James Cleverly has warned that it is “impossible” to ascertain how long the pause in fighting will last after the rival generals agreed to a 72-hour ceasefire.
“It is important to remember that ceasefires have been announced and have fallen apart in the past, so the situation remains dangerous, volatile and unpredictable,” he told broadcasters.”
Mr Wallace also said the presence of the UK military in Cyprus before fighting broke out in Sudan has helped the air bridge.
During the Defence Committee session, Tory MP Richard Drax told Mr Wallace the “withdrawal” of the British military around the world “should be reversed”.
The presence of the armed forces can help to assist diplomacy, Mr Drax said.
The minister said he did not believe a withdrawal was taking place and cited the situation in Cyprus as an example of the benefits of British military presence.
He said: “Presence matters. We are in Cyprus helping with this air bridge because we are present in Cyprus with two battalions and the RAF regiment now helping to do those jobs.”
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