Ex-Marine says bid to fly charity staff and 100 animals from Kabul 'blocked by MoD'
Watch: Ex-Marine says bid to fly animals out of Kabul ‘blocked by MoD’
A former Royal Marine has accused the Ministry of Defence of blocking a charter flight out of Kabul he had arranged for his charity’s 69 staff and 100 animals.
Paul "Pen" Farthing, founder of Nowzad, a dog welfare charity in Afghanistan, said the UK government had caused a “disaster” over a planned chartered flight out of the Taliban-controlled country.
He claimed on Tuesday that he had been "left to fend" for himself in Kabul, an accusation that was strongly denied by defence secretary Ben Wallace – who also said he would not prioritise “pets over people” in the evacuation process.
Farthing, 52, an ex-Marine commando who served in Afghanistan, raised more than £360,000 to charter a jet to evacuate his staff and animals.
Farthing told Sky News he had never asked the minister to put animals before people.
He said: "We've got a flight and we said, ‘We will wait, you've just got to give us this call sign so we can get it into play.’”
Wallace had previously told Sky News that the main issue was whether Farthing and his team could get to the plane, but the ex-Marine disputed this.
"He's just told me to get to the airport and I'm taking my staff and animals with me,” said Farthing.
"This whole thing is absolutely just a disaster."
Earlier, Wallace had denied Farthing's claim in a tweet that he'd been "cut off" in Afghanistan in no uncertain terms.
After hearing about a tweet in which Farthing said he'd been "left to fend for myself", Wallace responded to LBC's Nick Ferrari: "Well, first of all... that's b******s.
"Pen was contacted on Friday morning to be brought forward to fly. His wife left on Friday. We've said he's eligible and he is eligible as a British passport holder.
“This is simply about could he get through the gates and could his people get through the gates."
Wallace said he is unable to guarantee that the charity’s staff will be able to leave during the current evacuation window.
Wallace said Farthing “could get through the gates as a British passport holder”.
He added: “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.
“As for the animals that he was rescuing, 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.”
Farthing 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 the shelter's animals, evacuated from the country in a plan he has dubbed “Operation Ark”.
On Monday morning, Farthing announced the British government had granted visas for all of his staff and their dependents.
Farthing previously managed to get his wife and his heavily pregnant shelter manager out of the country, but warned the latter is now stranded in a “hell hole prison camp” in Germany.
Farthing said that despite the shelter manager being a US citizen who left on an American evacuation flight, she is now with 9,000 other refugees in a camp that he said does not have enough food supplies or toilets.
Wallace also said it is “unlikely” that the evacuation of Afghanistan will be extended past the end of the month.
American troops controlling Kabul airport are set to leave Afghanistan by 31 August, and US president Joe Biden has said repeatedly that he aims to stick to that schedule.
Watch: 'I won't prioritise pets over people,' says defence secretary