UK defence secretary hits out at supporters of animal rescuer in Kabul

Ben Wallace says those backing Paul ‘Pen’ Farthing’s evacuation effort are interfering with work to save Afghans

The UK defence secretary has accused supporters of a former British marine attempting to evacuate his shelter animals and staff from Kabul of trying to interfere with the rescue attempt of desperate Afghans.

Ben Wallace hit out at the “bullying, falsehoods and threatening behaviour” by those backing Paul “Pen” Farthing, who founded the charity Nowzad and has made a dash for the airport along with his 25 Afghan staff, their families and 173 rescued animals.

Wallace had agreed to allow them to land a privately chartered plane to fly them to Britain, but Farthing said while his convoy had run the gauntlet of Taliban guards, it had been stuck outside the airport for 10 hours. He warned that the 94 dogs and 79 cats he planned to transport would bake to death in their travel crates if they were not granted safe passage.

Appealing directly to the Taliban’s Doha spokesperson on social media, Farthing wrote: “Dear Sir; my team & my animals are stuck at airport circle. We have a flight waiting. Can you please facilitate safe passage into the airport for our convoy? Suhail Shaheen, We are an NGO who will come back to Afghanistan but right now I want to get everyone out safely.”

Farthing and the animals were unharmed by the two explosions outside Kabul airport on Thursday. After the blast, Farthing told the Sun: “We’re fine but everything is chaos here at the moment.

“All of a sudden we heard gunshots and our vehicle was targeted, had our driver not turned around he would have been shot in the head by a man with an AK-47. We’ve been in the airport, and back out of the airport; the whole thing’s a mess. There’s not much more I can say at the moment, I need to make sure the animals and everyone is safe.”

Wallace intervened in the debate when asked by an MP about the situation on Wednesday night. He said there was “no truth” in claims British forces had blocked Farthing or his contingent from accessing their chartered plane, but the problem was instead about “the flow through the gates to get airside”. He added: “What I was not prepared to do is prioritise pets over people … You might dislike me for that. But that’s my view.”

He then wrote a seven-post Twitter thread on Thursday afternoon, saying: “The issue, as those desperate people waiting outside the gates know too well, has always been getting processed through the entrances. It can take over 24hrs. There is no point turning up with a plane until the passengers/pets are airside.”

Threats from Farthing’s supporters towards Ministry of Defence staff and advisers were “unacceptable and a shameful way to treat people trying to help the evacuation”, Wallace added. He urged people to “let my civil servants and military get on with dealing with one of the most dangerous and challenging evacuations for a generation”.

Attention has been drawn to Farthing’s campaign to evacuate his animals because a friend and fellow animal welfare campaigner, Dominic Dyer, told Mail+ that Boris Johnson had “pushed the issue” and his wife, Carrie Johnson, “most certainly had something to do with the change”.

However, a government source has denied such lobbying took place. Speaking on Thursday, the prime minister himself said: “I’ve had absolutely no influence on any particular case, nor would that be right. That’s not how we do things in this country.”

The case has received prominent press coverage and Wallace has said Farthing and his staff would be eligible for a place on an RAF flight out of Kabul – but not the animals. Farthing has vowed to stay in Afghanistan until he knows his animals and staff are safe – despite holding a British passport.

Foreign Office advice updated on Wednesday night told people near the airport to “move away to a safe location” due to the “ongoing and high threat of terrorist attack”, and Wallace said on Wednesday that some people should instead head to a neighbouring country via a land border.


Caroline Davies and Aubrey Allegretti

The GuardianTramp

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