A former Royal Marine who set up an animal rescue charity in Kabul said he would be forced to put his cats and dogs down after a minister vowed to ‘prioritise people over pets’.
Paul ‘Pen’ Farthing, 52, founder of Nowzad, said Boris Johnson had approved a charter flight he had crowdfunded to fly 69 staff and 100 animals to the UK.
But he claimed Defence Secretary Ben Wallace blocked the flight by refusing to grant air signs needed for it to land at Kabul airport. A Ministry of Defence spokesman denied the claims.
Yesterday Mr Wallace said a charter flight would hamper rescue efforts, adding: ‘I’m not prepared to prioritise pets over people.’ Mr Farthing said: ‘If they won’t allow me on to that aircraft then I’ll have to put all my dogs and cats to sleep on the runway.’
Mr Farthing was rebuked by Ben Wallace this morning for complaining UK forces were stopping his private charter plane from taking his staff and rescue dogs out of Kabul.
But a Sky News video of a Vauxhall hatchback entering a military cargo jet prompted a counter-blast from animal rights activists including the comedian Ricky Gervais and actor Peter Egan, who accused the MoD of caring more about a car than ‘sentient animals’.
But a video of the Vauxhall entering the cargo jet prompted comedian Ricky Gervais to tweet: ‘Urgent: @PenFarthing is brave and kind. Such honour should be rewarded. He’s still trying to save others in the face of grave danger. He shouldn’t be left behind. And they rescued a f*****g car? Shame. #OperationArk’
Actor Peter Egan added: ‘Can it be possible that @BWallaceMP is ok about airlifting a car but not sentient animals!!’
In response to the anger, an MOD source said today: ‘The car was a civilian armoured vehicle (probably part of the UK Embassy fleet).
‘Priority on all flights is given to passengers, but flights have to take off in their allocated time-slot to keep traffic moving, so on the flight featured by Sky, there were 134 people processed at the time allocated for take-off, and because that left some room, it was filled with cargo, including the car.’
Mr Gervais wrote in response to the video: ‘@PenFarthing is brave and kind. Such honour should be rewarded. He’s still trying to save others in the face of grave danger. He shouldn’t be left behind. And they rescued a f*****g car? Shame.’
Actor Peter Egan added: ‘Can it be possible that @BWallaceMP is ok about airlifting a car but not sentient animals!!’
Mr Farthing, 52, has complained about being ‘left to fend for myself’ after organising the flight for his 25 Afghan staff as well as the charity’s dogs and cats. He announced the UK Government granted visas for all of his staff and their dependents.
But Mr Wallace – himself a former soldier – told LBC that Mr Farthing’s claim about being abandoned by the MoD was ‘b******s’.
In a round of interviews, the clearly frustrated politician said that while the animal charity boss had done ‘amazing’ work, all the plane would achieve if it landed in Kabul was to ‘block the airfield’ and ‘sit there empty’.
‘There is a confusion, I am afraid some of the campaigners have latched on to the fact they have chartered a plane, as if this somehow is the magic wand,’ he said.
‘The magic wand is whether people can get through Kabul through the Taliban checkpoints and then through the 3,000-plus people, some of whom are waiting in front of the queue because they are under real threat, direct threat right now from the Taliban.’
He added: ‘I am not prepared to prioritise, for example, pets over people.’
Mr Wallace said that Mr Farthing himself could get through the gates and his staff were entitled to refuge in the UK, but he could not ‘guarantee’ they would be airlifted ‘in this window’.
Paul ‘Pen’ Farthing, 52, said he has been ‘left to fend for myself’ after the MoD allegedly stopped his privately rented plane from taking off
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace insisted he will not ‘prioritise pets over people’ in the evacuation
Pen Farthing is founder of the Nowzad charity which he set up after befriending a stray dog while serving in Helmand in 2006
Former Royal Marine Commando Pen Farthing has been working with his Norwegian wife Kaisa Helene (above) and their team in Kabul
Mr Farthing with dogs RPG and Jena, who were destined to die from starvation or dog fights in Afghanistan until he stepped in
Celebrities including actor Ricky Gervais and Dragons Den star Deborah Meaden, who back the Nowzad charity, today slammed the Government’s attitude towards evacuating animals
An MoD spokesman said: ‘We are aware of reports around vehicles being loaded onto flights leaving Afghanistan. ‘Cleared passengers are always loaded as an absolute priority and any spare capacity is used for operational freight. No flight has left Kabul empty.
‘In the last 24 hours, 9 flights have left with over 1800 people on board.’
Celebrities including actor Mr Gervais and Dragons Den star Deborah Meaden, who back the Nowzad charity, today slammed the Government’s attitude towards evacuating animals.
Writing on Twitter, Gervais said: ‘Dear stupid c**ts saying we shouldn’t put animals before people.. 1. The animals go in the hold where people can’t go. 2. This is an extra, privately funded plane that will allow MORE people to be saved. #OperationArk’.
Meaden added: ‘So.. Pete Quentin (Tory candidate for Camberwell and Peckham) why on Earth would you put these lives at risk? Everything arranged and you pull it??? Are we dithering with peoples lives @PenFarthing #nowzad #operationark’.
It’s a no from Joe: US president set to reject pleas to delay Kabul withdrawal deadline
Ministers have dismissed hopes that Joe Biden will extend the August 31 deadline for withdrawing US troops from Afghanistan as the UK, France and Germany prepare to make a last-ditch plea in G7 talks today.
Boris Johnson, Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel are expected to push the case for keeping the evacuation operation in place longer with thousands of desperate people still flocking to Kabul airport.
However, Mr Johnson and Mr Biden discussed the airlift in a call last night without making any progress, and the Taliban has warned of ‘consequences’ if there is an attempt to cling on.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said this morning it is ‘unlikely’ the deadline will be extended, after the RAF extracted another 2,000 people in the past 24 hours.
‘I think it is unlikely. Not only because of what the Taliban has said but if you look at the public statements of President Biden I think it is unlikely,’ Mr Wallace said.
‘It is definitely worth us all trying, and we will.’
With the prospects of maintaining the military action receding, attention is turning to plans after August 31, with suggestions the Taliban could allow civilian evacuation flights to continue.
The comments came after Mr Farthing told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: ‘Today we still do not have anything from the MoD, in fact they cut me off.
‘I did have an emergency line that I could call if I was in trouble or needed to report something that’s going on but that’s been cut so I’ve been literally left now on my own in enemy-held territory. I just can’t get my head around that.
‘We’ve got a privately-funded plane that can take 250 passengers out, 69 of them would be me and the staff, but we’ve got an empty cargo hold. I don’t understand the problems here, I’m not asking the MoD to give me a plane I just need to have a call sign.’
Mr Farthing claimed he had not received documents from the Home Office that would allow his staff to get past Taliban checkpoints and leave the country.
But Mr Wallace told Sky News: ‘He could get through the gates as a British passport holder. He was called forward on Friday and I recommend he takes that.
‘His workforce have been offered, as entitled personnel, places and they will be able to be called forward, but I can’t guarantee in this window they will be processed onto aircraft, all I can say is they qualify.’
He added on LBC radio: ‘I have some really desperate people in that queue who are really under threat of life and death, and if we don’t get them out their future is very, very bleak.
‘I simply have to prioritise those people over pets, very important. It doesn’t mean we don’t care about animals, we’re all an animal loving nation.’
Mr Farthing previously managed to get his 30-year-old wife Kaisa out of the country and shared a shocking image appearing to show her on a near-empty evacuation flight.
In an interview with Sky News, he said: ‘I can’t get into the airport because the MoD won’t talk to me. That is beyond the pale, somebody somewhere is playing with people’s lives.’
Mr Farthing goes on to describe the emotional rollercoaster he and his staff were forced to go through today.
He said: ‘You’ve not idea of the elation in our office this morning when our staff knew [they could come to the UK].’
He previously managed to get his 30-year-old wife Kaisa out of the country and shared a shocking image appearing to show her on a near-empty evacuation flight (pictured)
Outraged social media users have taken to Twitter to vent their frustrations at the Government’s alleged actions
But the joy his staff felt soon turned to despair after Mr Farthing said the Ministry of Defence refused to let his privately funded commercial plane land in the Kabul military airfield.
He said: ‘It’s a privately funded aircraft, I only want to take out 69 people and the cargo hold is empty so we’re going to put dogs and cats into it.
‘No taxpayer money will go into this. We’ve got 130 spare seats on that aircraft we can fill with people entitled to come to Britain.’
He went on to claim the reason his flight had been blocked is that the Ministry of Defence doesn’t want people to see animals getting on a flight.
While holding back tears he added: ‘I am behind enemy lines now, the Taliban are here. I cannot get into the airport because the MOD won’t talk to me. They’re playing with people’s lives.
‘I wasn’t frightened because I knew I had this lifeline but that’s just been cut off. I am now on my own here.
An RAF plane was filled to capacity with embassy staff, British nationals and any Afghans able to settle in the UK
Evacuations have been underway in Afghanistan since the Taliban took control of the country on August 13 after American troops were pulled from the country
‘The very people that I was part of have cut me off. You have no idea of the emotion that’s going through me right now.’
Outraged social media users have taken to Twitter to vent their frustrations at the Government’s alleged actions.
One wrote: ‘Dear British Government, the eyes of the world are watching, not just those of the UK. It is absolutely essential this life saving flight goes ahead without delay and with all onboard (including animals). I would urge you to ensure everything is in place without delay.’
Thousands of Afghans could be left behind in Kabul as ministers push to extend the deadline for the last British evacuation flight beyond Tuesday. Pictured: British citizens catching a flight earlier this week
Taliban fighters stand guard on their side at a border crossing point between Pakistan and Afghanistan, in Torkham, in Khyber district, Pakistan
The former Royal Marine Commando runs an animal rights charity in Afghanistan and is now trying to evacuate dogs and cats
Mr Farthing said staff at the charity were working on plans to evacuate 100 cats and 100 dogs on a £200,000 charter plane
While another said: ‘Furious and feel sick. How can people be so evil!!! Boris Johnson GET THIS SORTED! I can’t believe we were all praising you this morning, we thought you were doing the right thing!!!!’
And another wrote: ‘This is horrendous. Heartbreaking. The UK government have failed in every aspect and I am so sorry to see it now affecting you and #nowzad. I am praying for you, your staff and animals to get back safely. Stay safe.’
The MoD refused to comment on Mr Farthing’s accusations last night.
How a deadly deployment in Afghanistan’s Helmand province turned Royal Marine into animal saviour when he realised he couldn’t leave his new canine pal behind
By JACK WRIGHT FOR MAILONLINE
Tough guy Paul Farthing arrived with the men of Kilo Company of 42 Commando Royal Marines in the war torn town of ‘Now Zad’ in Helmand Province – one of the most dangerous places in Afghanistan – in 2006.
Tasked with providing stability for the local people in the early years of the Western intervention triggered by the 9/11 attacks in the US, the Marines soon realised it wasn’t just local people who needed their help – but stray dogs.
The idea of an animal clinic was first born when Farthing – a Royal Marine Sergeant who goes by the nickname Pen – broke up a dog fight, a popular ‘sport’ in Afghanistan, taking place outside their remote compound.
Tough guy Paul Farthing arrived with the men of Kilo Company of 42 Commando Royal Marines in the war torn town of ‘Now Zad’ in Helmand Province – one of the most dangerous places in Afghanistan – in 2006
Former Royal Marine commando Paul ‘Pen’ Farthing, who runs an animal sanctuary in Kabul, has been separated from his wife Kaisa Helene in Kabul
He was befriended by one of the dogs, who became his companion and he was named Nowzad. The Marines built a run and mortar shelter to provide the dogs with some safety and shelter and when the commando force left, Farthing decided he couldn’t leave ‘those sad big eyes’ behind.
With the help of animal lovers Nowzad, several other dogs and 14 puppies befriended by Marines were taken on an epic journey to safety. Within months, the charity was formed with the aim of helping the animals of Afghanistan and educating the local people about the care and treatment of dogs as well as reducing rabies, a major problem in the country.
According to the Nowzad website, the clinic has reunited over 1,600 soldiers with the dogs and cats they rescue and bond with on the frontlines in Afghanistan, and ‘continue to be there for the brave men and women who show compassion to animals’.
‘The relationships built up between a dog and soldier on bases can be very special,’ Farthing said, ‘A dog can ease the stress and provide five minutes of normality that is hugely important in that kind of environment, it can provide a bond that is hard to break.
‘Dogs have been proven to help post-traumatic stress and the soldiers who adopt them are addressing this.’
Undated handout photo of Pen Farthing, founder of animal rescue charity Nowzad
The US-backed authorities in Kabul undertook a brutal operation of poisoning with thousands of stray dogs on the streets but Nowzad implemented an extensive programme of humane trap, neuter, vaccinate and release as an organised and effective way of controlling the dog population – and countering canine rabies.
In parallel, they helped to educate local Afghan children how to avoid feral dogs and the humane treatment of animals. One dog at the clinic in particular carried the scars of brutality – Atish, brought in by a US aid worker who found him in agony of the streets.
‘His back side had been dipped in battery acid, we think,’ said Louise Hastie, the former British soldier running Nowzad’s operations, ‘we amputated most of the tail and he is making a good recovery.’
‘We have made real progress here in terms of both care and education and it is thanks to the support of all those people who donate.
‘Every penny they give is genuinely helping the lives of Afghan animals and that is something we are proud of. ‘For soldiers and others out here that we have helped there has been a special bond built-up with an animal here that they can’t give up.
‘They become like family, something you can rely on and will not let you down, a comfort even in the worst of times. You can trust them, they will not let you down. Soldiers and others have found you just can’t leave them behind.’