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Former Marine Paul ‘Pen’ Farthing has issued a desperate plea for help from outside Kabul airport, where he and his team are stuck with 173 animals waiting for a flight home.
The founder of animal rescue charity Nowzad has captured the country’s attention over the past week as he tries to evacuate his staff and the charity’s cats and dogs.
Writing on social media, he appealed directly to The Taliban, saying: “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.”
He added: “We have been here for 10 hours after being assured that we would have safe passage. Truly would like to go home now. Let’s prove the IEA are taking a different path.”
Former Royal Marine Pen Farthing, 57, told The Sun that his pets will bake to death in their travel crates if they do not get help soon.
He and his team made a midnight journey to the airport in convoy after receiving notice from the defence secretary that they could get a private charter plane back to Britain.
They nearly didn’t make it to the airport, however, as they were stopped at a Taliban checkpoint. Mr Farthing said: “About 15 guys jumped out and levelled their guns at us. Then one of them had an ND [a negligent discharge]. Luckily he was a s*** shot and it went over our heads.
“I very rarely hear Afghans swear in English but I heard a few words then.”
“We’ve got hours now before animals start dying. There are some in the middle we can’t reach and we can’t start unloading them because it will attract too much attention. It is getting really desperate,” he said.
“We have permission to leave. We are in touch with the British forces but they say they are powerless to help.”
Dr Iain McGill, a vet who is working to secure help for Mr Farthing and his animals, shared a video of workers spraying water through the bars of the dogs’ cages to keep them hydrated in the baking heat.
Defence secretary Ben Wallace took to Twitter to correct reports that Mr Farthing and his convoy of pets had had their charter flight blocked. He wrote: “No one, at any stage has blocked a flight. This is a total myth and is bein peddled around as if that is why the pet evacuation hasn’t taken place.
“I never said I would not facilitate. I said no one would get to queue jump.”
He added: “The bullying, falsehoods and threatening behaviour by some towards our MOD personnel and advisors is unacceptable and a shameful way to treat people trying to help the evacuation.”
Speaking this morning, Armed Forces Minister James Heapey said that moving “lots of desperate Afghans” out of the way to allow Pen Farthing and his 200 rescue animals safe passage to the flight “doesn’t feel like the right thing to do”.
Sky News also reported that the defence secretary, Ben Wallace, complained to MPs that British military efforts to evacuate people from Kabul had been “diverted” because of Pen Farthing’s attempts to rescue his animals.
Mr Wallace told a meeting of MPs: “What I was not prepared to do is prioritise pets over people, I’m afraid you might dislike me for that but that’s my view, there are also some very, very desperate people under real threat.”
Stephen Kinnock, Labour’s shadow minister for Asia, told Sky News: “We had a call with defence secretary Ben Wallace yesterday and he said, “We cannot be in situation where we’re potentially putting pets before people.” He added: “I have to say I agree with every word of that statement.”
Mr Farthing is currently waiting at Kabul airport to board his own charter plane, but can’t get inside the compound.
The US forces , who control the airport, will have the final say over whether Mr Farthing, his team, and his animals get on the plane.
The group are understood not to be in the highest “priority” group as they are not deemed “at risk”, so there is a chance they might miss their plane.
The Prime Minister’s wife, Carrie, allegedly tried to overrule Ben Wallace to allow Pen Farthing’s animals to leave Kabul on a charter plane, it has been reported.
Friend of Farthing Dominic Dyer told Mail Plus: “Mr Johnson’s wife Carrie ‘most certainly had something to do with the change’.”
However Downing Street strongly denied that the last-minute decision to allow the flight access was down to a personal intervention.
Asked if he or his wife Carrie had any contact about getting Pen Farthing and his animals out, Boris Johnson 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.”
Defence secretary, Ben Wallace, announced on Monday that the UK Government had granted visas for Mr Farthing, his workers and their dependants - totalling 68 people.
He said: “Now that Pen Farthing’s staff have been cleared to come forward... I have authorised MoD to facilitate their processing alongside all other eligible personnel at HKIA [Kabul airport].
“At this stage, if he arrives with his animals we will seek a slot of his plane. If he does not have his animals with him, he and his staff can board an RAF flight.”