An animal charity boss stuck in Afghanistan with 200 dogs and cats said his ‘mission’ to get them and his staff out of the country has been unsuccessful and he is now likely to have to leave the country on his own.
Pen Farthing, who founded the Nowzad animal shelter in Kabul, has been engaged in a desperate attempt to board an RAF evacuation flight in recent days.
Today, he had been waiting outside the city’s airport with his animals and staff after making it through a terrifying Taliban checkpoint at which a fighter accidentally fired his gun.
His group also narrowly avoided the airport suicide bomb blasts which rocked the area today, killing 12 US serviceman and up to 90 Afghans.
But he has now revealed in an interview with the BBC that he has been forced to give up on his attempt to get his animals and staff out of the country due to a decision by US President Joe Biden to change the rules on who is allowed into the airfield.
He said that even though his staff had been ‘given approval’ by the British Government to board a flight, ‘the Taliban would not accept their paperwork’ because they had been told to only allow people through who had a ‘physical passport with a visa in it’.
He said his staff have now told him it is ‘time to go’ over fears for his safety, but added that he will be unable to take any of his animals due to the new rules.
asked him to They asked me if I can get as many of the dogs and cats out with me so yeah. I can’t take them with me because I can’t get them now past those Taliban checkpoints because of the regulation that has come down.
Pen Farthing, who founded the Nowzad shelter in Kabul, said he was caught up in today’s suspected suicide bombing
It comes after Defence Secretary Ben Wallace hit out at criticism from supporters of the former Royal Marine Mr Farthing who claimed the minister had blocked a flight which would have taken the animals.
Paul Farthing, known as Pen, who founded the Nowzad shelter in Kabul, is aiming to get 200 dogs and cats alongside his animal shelter staff out of the country.
In a series of tweets, Mr Wallace lashed out at ‘bullying, falsehoods and threatening behaviour’ towards Ministry of Defence staff.
His animals are currently in a container outside the airport as they wait with their carer to board an evacuation flight.
Boris Johnson also denied he had had any influence on the rescue attempts.
In a series of tweets, Mr Wallace lashed out at ‘bullying, falsehoods and threatening behaviour’ towards Ministry of Defence staff.
Speaking on Thursday evening, Mr Wallace said: ‘We got inside that airfield and just before that horrendous attack… we were told that Joe Biden had changed the policy on who is allowed into the airfield.
‘And so my staff, even though they had been given approval by the British Government, the Taliban would not accept their paperwork because they had been told they could only allow people in with a physical passport with a visa in it.
‘The Taliban obviously control the outer part of the airfield, so there is nothing I can do.’
He added: ‘My mission to get them out of Afghanistan has just ended because Joe Biden stopped it.
Before news of the attack emerged, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace blasted Mr Farthing’s supporters for claiming he had blocked a flight to rescue the animals, saying it was a ‘total myth’
‘I can’t overrule the President of the United States, he has said what paperwork that they need to obviously be able to get into the airfield.’
He said his staff have told him to leave because they do not think he will be ‘welcome’ under Taliban rule once Western forces have left.
‘They asked me if I can get as many of the dogs and cats out with me so yeah,’ he said.
‘I can’t take them with me because I can’t get them now past those Taliban checkpoints because of the regulation that has come down.’
Describing his group’s route to the airport, he said: ‘We had gone through hell to get there, we have had Taliban cock their weapons and point them at our faces, one of them had what we used to call in the marines an ND – a negligent discharge where they basically accidentally pull the trigger.
‘It was a miracle that he was an absolutely rubbish aim, otherwise one of us wouldn’t be here now.’
Today’s bomb blasts occurred after Mr Farthing’s staff were refused passage through the Taliban checkpoint.
After the group had begun their journey with the animals back to their shelter, Mr Farthing said ‘all hell broke loose’ when the explosions went off’.
Today shocking footage emerged of the animals gasping for breath inside the packed container
‘We had Taliban there firing into the air, one let off a full magazine on automatic from his AK-47 right next to the window of our bus where we had women and children in,’ he said.
‘As we were trying to then flee from the airport we were getting teargassed, so we were trying to drive the vehicle while we obviously can’t see anything.
It was just the most horrific thing, we have all managed to make it back to our animal shelter here…’
He also told how he met a British bus driver who is trapped with his children in Kabul after coming to Afghanistan to visit family.
The veteran said the man told him he was with a group of around 40 people, all of whom had British passports.
‘There is no way they are going to be able to get home. There are thousands and thousands of people who are going to be left here who have every right in the world to get on a flight and come home,’ he said.
‘At certain checkpoints the Taliban won’t let you through if you are of Afghan heritage but you’ve now got a foreign passport.’
Jihadist splinter group ISIS-K are believed to be behind today’s attacks.
Besides the deaths of 12 US troops, senior health officials in Kabul say the death toll could be as high as 90 Afghans, with 143 more people believed to be injured.
Speaking earlier today, Mr Farthing also told how his group’s driver narrowly avoided being ‘shot in the head’ by a gunman with an AK-47.
Meanwhile, Boris Johnson denied he had had any influence on Mr Farthing’s rescue attempt after being asked to intervene by his wife, Carrie, who is a vocal animal rights activist.
A suicide bomb has caused a huge explosion outside Kabul airport with ‘unknown casualties’ just hours after warnings of an ‘imminent’ and ‘lethal’ ISIS terrorist attack
Pentagon Spokesman John Kirby said: ‘We can confirm an explosion outside Kabul airport. Casualties are unclear at this time. We will provide additional details when we can’
And, in a series of tweets, Mr Wallace rejected claims his staff had blocked a flight for Mr Farthing.
He said: ‘Let’s get some facts out there: One. No one, at any stage has blocked a flight.
‘This is a total myth and is being peddled around as if that is why the pet evacuation hasn’t taken place. Two. I never said I would not facilitate. I said no one would get to queue jump.
‘Three. 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 24 hours. There is no point turning up with a plane until the passengers / pets are airside.
‘Four. As people were processed ARAP (Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy), LOTR (Leave outside the Immigration Rules) etc they were called forward. Once processed and on the airfield they are marshalled on to a plane. As I have said we will facilitate at all stages but the priority will be people not pets.’
Mr Wallace went on to say there had been no ‘U-turn’ over the issue, calling for critics to allow civil servants and the military to deal ‘with one of the most dangerous and challenging evacuations for a generation’.
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. They do their cause no good.’
Since the collapse of the Afghan government, Mr Farthing and his supporters have campaigned to have his staff and their families as well as 140 dogs and 60 cats evacuated from the country in a plan he has dubbed Operation Ark.
Reports have suggested the Prime Minister’s wife Carrie stepped in to push for his rescue.
Asked about the reports today, Mr Johnson said: ‘I’ve had absolutely no influence on any particular case, nor would that be right.
‘That’s not, that’s not how we do things in this country.’
This morning, Mr Farthing issued a plea on Twitter to ensure his ‘safe passage’ into Kabul airport.
Addressing the Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen, Mr Farthing said: ‘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?
‘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.’
His friend and supporter Dominic Dyer, from Milton Keynes, said a privately funded plane had been due to land on Friday from Luton airport, but plans had to be scrapped due to security fears.
Mr Dyer said another plane is now waiting in a ‘neighbouring country’ but cannot land in Kabul until Mr Farthing is granted entry into the airport.
He said: ‘We have a plan in place and we can act swiftly, but not until he’s granted entry into the airport.
‘It’s a complicated situation and the door is closing, the next 24 to 48 hours are crucial – we need it to happen before then to avoid him, his staff and the animals becoming stuck in the country.
‘There are options for him to go back to his centre and hunker down or he could try and leave the country on the road – but there are fears over the Taliban closing the borders, so it’s unclear what’s going to happen.’
Earlier on Thursday, Armed Forces minister James Heappey said British forces could not move ‘desperate Afghans’ to make way for Mr Farthing’s pet rescue mission – as harrowing footage emerged of dogs suffering from the heat while stuck in a container outside Kabul airport.
Mr Heappey said that while the former Royal Marine deserved praise for staying behind with his staff and animals until they are evacuated, giving them priority over other desperate people waiting to leave ‘doesn’t feel like the right thing to do’.
Taliban militants have blocked Mr Farthing’s convoy carrying 173 cats and dogs from entering Kabul airport to flee Afghanistan – as he warned the animals could soon die from heat exhaustion after being left for more than ten hours in a sweltering travel crate.
Today shocking footage emerged of the animals gasping for breath inside the packed container.
Summing up the situation this morning, Armed Forces minister James Heappey suggested it would be wrong to prioritise Mr Farthing and his animals for processing over other applicants.
He told Sky News: ‘For him, it is a grim reality of these situations that as a British national we would seek to expedite his passage into the airport but he, commendably, has said that is not what he wants to do.
‘He is asking us, the Americans and the Taliban for safe passage but I am afraid safe passage is also other words for being brought to the front of the queue.
‘And I just wonder how you feel about having to make a decision whereby we move lots of desperate Afghans out of the way to bring him through because of the profile and the support he has. That doesn’t feel like the right thing to do. It gives me no pleasure to say that though.’
The blast took place near the Baron Hotel at the Abbey Gate of the airport where huge crowds had gathered in an attempt to enter the airport
Mr Farthing appealed directly to the Taliban on Twitter in a desperate bid to secure the release of the animals
On Thursday Mr Farthing appealed directly to the Taliban on Twitter in a desperate bid to secure the release of the animals.
Addressing Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen, Mr Farthing wrote: ‘Dear Sir; my team and my animals are stuck at airport circle. We have a flight waiting. Can you please facilitate safe passage into the airport for our convoy?
‘We are an NGO who will come back to Afghanistan but right now I want to get everyone out safely.
‘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.’
The Government is still scrambling to evacuate thousands of British nationals trapped at Hamid Karzai International Airport
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has repeatedly expressed his frustration about the row, and complained yesterday about the limited resources available to the British military evacuation effort being ‘diverted’ by attempts to rescue the animals.
According to Sky News, Mr Wallace addressed the issue during a call with MPs on Wednesday afternoon, complaining that soldiers in Kabul had been diverted by having to deal with the Nowzad evacuation.
‘What I can tell you, and it is a bit upsetting, is that I have soldiers on the ground who have been diverted from saving those people because of inaccurate stories, inaccurate lobbying that have diverted that resource,’ he is reported to have said.
‘And that is not something I would be proud of, and I’ve been very straight and consistent throughout.’
Mr Farthing was held at the checkpoint for an hour before they were finally allowed to drive across the city to the airport.
They arrived there at 2am but they still remain behind the blockade unable to enter the transport hub.
Mr Johnson is said to have personally intervened in the row at the urging of his wife, Carrie (they are seen in Cornwall during the G7 meeting)
Staff have parked their trucks in the shade in an effort to keep the animals cool and have been spraying the crates with water.
The Government is still scrambling to evacuate thousands of British nationals trapped at Hamid Karzai International Airport – which fell under Taliban control last week.
Animal rights campaigner Dominic Dyer, a friend of Mr Farthing, told MailPlus that the u-turn on animal evacuations followed an intervention from the Prime Minister’s wife Carrie Johnson – a keen supporter of animal welfare issues.
But the claim was quickly dismissed by the Ministry of Defence, with a spokesperson reportedly telling Sky News that they were a ‘lie’.