Taliban: Bonnybridge-born diplomat reveals life at heart of emergency operation

A Bonnybridge-born diplomat working in the UK Government crisis centre tasked with helping over 15,000 Brits and Afghans flee the Taliban has given a glimpse into what life was like being at the heart of the emergency operation.

By Allan Crow
Monday, 6th September 2021, 3:46 pm
Updated Monday, 6th September 2021, 3:46 pm

Beccy Speedie was part of the team that faced a race against time to get as many people out of Kabul as they could.

She worked 24/7 from a control hub in the basement of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, to save lives.

Beccy, 26 was serving her first stint in the crisis centre – working as private secretary to the crisis team’s Gold leader.

Control hub in the basement of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (Pic: Sam Ettleman)

She said: “Obviously, it has been quite an intense situation. Everyone was extremely busy and the stakes were so high.

“It’s really stressful both in terms of the content of what you are dealing with, and also the pace of work which was just relentless.

“It can be really upsetting. One of my friends said that he had to take a break from doing call handling because he was speaking to a woman whose husband was shot by the Taliban in front of her and their two kids. She was hysterical and terrified.

“I was starting my shifts at six o’clock in the morning, so have a nice early 4.30 wake-up to get here from Clapham.

Beccy Speedie was part of the team that faced a race against time to get as many people out of Kabul as they could. (Pic: Sam Ettleman)

“But in the context of the suffering of the people in Afghanistan in fear of their lives, it feels like a small price to pay. We simply had to get as many people out as we can.”

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Also on the team was another face from Forth Valley.

Stirling-born Gerry McGurk admitted it was a tough challenge.

“I’m pretty battle hardened but this Afghanistan operation has not been an easy task and the television pictures have clearly illustrated how volatile the situation is on the ground.

“We worked 24/7 making sure we used every minute of the day to get as many people as we could to the Kabul evacuation centre to be processed.

“Doing 12 or 13 hours days is exhausting, but at the end of the day we’ve helped get over 15,000 people out of a dreadful situation and that keeps you going.”

“Welcome to the Crisis Management Department,” reads the sign above the door into where the British evacuation of Afghanistan was masterminded.

On one wall is a detailed map of Kabul airport and the surrounding area – ground zero in the race against time – with zones marked out in pink and green highlighter.

On another are a row of 24-hour clocks showing the time in cities across the world: London; Kabul; Washington and Baghdad.

In between are clusters of desks, six or eight people on each.

The room is packed with people working the phones to quite literally save lives in Afghanistan.

It is here that all wings of the UK Government were brought together to orchestrate the response to the crisis: Foreign Office, Home Office and Ministry of Defence.

In one side room, off the main open-planned centre, people continue to make calls to those hoping to escape Kabul.

Around 110 people can fit in the centre at one time, but that is a fraction of the team worldwide. More than 1,000 Foreign Office staff have been working on the Afghanistan withdrawal.

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