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A former Royal Marine who founded an animal shelter in Kabul has made it through the airport’s security with his pets and is awaiting a flight out of Afghanistan, the Ministry of Defence has said.
Paul “Pen” Farthing’s campaign to get his staff and animals from the Nowzad shelter out of Afghanistan has caused controversy in recent days, after receiving a huge amount of public support.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace complained some of Mr Farthing’s more militant supporters had “taken up too much time” of senior commanders.
Although visas were granted for his 24 staff and their dependents, Mr Farthing refused to leave without his pets and is aiming to get 200 dogs and cats out of the country.
His “Operation Ark” campaign became hugely successful on social media but Mr Wallace complained it was distracting those focusing on evacuating the most vulnerable.
However, on Friday the Ministry of Defence (MoD) announced Mr Farthing and his animals were on the brink of escape.
In a tweet, the MoD said: “Pen Farthing and his pets were assisted through the system at Kabul airport by the UK Armed Forces. They are currently being supported while he awaits transportation.”
It added: “On the direction of the Defence Secretary, clearance for their charter flight has been sponsored by the UK Government.”
Earlier on Friday, Mr Wallace said MoD staff had faced abuse from Mr Farthing’s supporters.
Mr Farthing claimed on social media his team and the rescue animals had managed to reach Kabul Airport on Thursday, only to be “turned away” due to changes in paperwork rules made by the US some hours earlier.
Speaking to LBC, Mr Wallace said: “I think it has taken up too much time of my senior commanders dealing with this issue when they should be focused on dealing with the humanitarian crisis.”
Mr Wallace used a series of tweets on Thursday to hit out at the criticism from Mr Farthing’s supporters and condemned “bullying, falsehoods and threatening behaviour” towards MoD staff.
The Defence Secretary, when asked about his tweets, told LBC: “My people were focused for the last two weeks on a humanitarian crisis.
“I had to listen sometimes to calls of abuse to my advisers, to my officials, based mainly on falsehoods, that somebody, somewhere had blocked a flight – no-one blocked a flight.
“Fundamentally, as we have seen on the media, there are desperate, desperate people, and I was not prepared to push those people out of the way for that.
“When people’s time is right, they were called forward, and that’s the right thing to do. But I hope he comes back, he was advised to come back, his wife came back last Friday, so I hope he does as well.”
Mr Farthing said his team were 300m inside Kabul Airport on Thursday but were turned away and as a result got caught up in the terror attack that killed Afghan civilians queuing up to flee the Taliban and US troops.
“Went through hell to get there & we were turned away into the chaos of those devastating explosions,” he said on Twitter.
Mr Wallace said on Friday that Britain’s evacuation effort in Kabul has entered its final hours and has largely ended processing new evacuees, with the Baron Hotel processing centre now closed.