Defence Secretary to prioritise people over pets in Afghanistan evacuation

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said he will prioritise people over pets as he hit back at suggestions that the evacuation of an animal charity from Afghanistan was blocked.

Paul Farthing, known as “Pen”, founded the Nowzad animal shelter in Kabul rescuing dogs, cats and donkeys after serving with the British Army in Afghanistan in the mid-2000s.

Since the collapse of the Afghan government, he has been campaigning to have all of his staff and their families, as well as his 140 dogs and 60 cats, evacuated from the country in a plan he has dubbed “Operation Ark”.

Taliban resurgence in Afghanistan
Pen Farthing (PA)

On Monday morning, a jubilant Mr Farthing announced the UK Government had granted visas for all of his staff and their dependants – but later it was suggested that a plane chartered to fly them out was blocked by the Ministry of Defence.

Dominic Dyer, an animal welfare campaigner and close friend of Mr Farthing, said Mr Wallace should resign.

He told the PA news agency: “I think his position is untenable and it’s disgusting. Now he will say he’s just basically interested in saving lives.

“Actually he’s risking lives by what he’s doing.”

Mr Dyer added: “I do feel the man should resign. I don’t think in a situation like this you should have a Secretary of State doing what he’s doing.”

Discussing Mr Farthing, 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 on to aircraft, all I can say is they qualify.

“And as I’ve said, not everyone will get through.

“As for the animals that he has rescued and saved, it is just not going to be the case that I will prioritise them over the men, women and children we see in desperate need at the gate.

“I regret that, but I don’t believe that the Taliban’s main point of target will be his workforce and indeed the pets and the animals he is looking after compared to some of those other people desperate in front of the queue.”

He added: “Frankly, my day job, and my evening job, and my night job, is focusing on those thousands of people outside the front gate.

“He’s been offered a place, last Friday, he was called forward. I strongly recommend he does that.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace (Ian West/PA)

“And once the evacuation is over I genuinely believe that his workforce, and if he wants to repatriate the pets that he looks after and the strays, I genuinely believe that they will be allowed to move forward at a later date when that airport opens.

“But frankly I have to prioritise people at the moment over pets.”

Mr Wallace said if an aircraft flew in today to pick up Mr Farthing, his staff and animals, it would block the airfield and sit there empty.

“There is a confusion and I think I’m afraid some of the campaigners have latched on to the fact they’ve chartered a plane that this somehow is the magic wand.

“The magic wand is where the people can get through Kabul, through the Taliban checkpoints, and then through the 3,000-plus people waiting, some of whom are waiting in front of the queue because they are under real threat, direct threat, right now from Taliban,” he said.