Pen Farthing’s rescue plane has not yet taken off from the UK as friends ‘hope and pray’ he will be able to escape Kabul with his animals – after he was turned away from the airport by Taliban militants due to President Joe Biden changing visa rules.
The animal charity boss had chartered a private plane which was due to take off from Luton, but it was unable to do so due in the wake of an ISIS attack that killed 103 people, including 13 US troops.
His friend, fellow activist Dominic Dyer – who had been hoping to board the flight from the UK – said the ‘security situation’ had prevented it from going ahead.
‘There is a plan that we could operate but I just don’t know if that could be possible,’ he told Good Morning Britain. ‘We hope and pray we can get him, his staff and animals home.’
Mr Farthing suffered another crippling setback yesterday when the Taliban blocked him from entering the airport so he could board a British military jet.
He tweeted: ‘The whole team & dogs/cats were safely 300m inside the airport perimeter. We were turned away as @JoeBiden had changed paperwork rules just 2 hours earlier.
‘Went through hell to get there & we were turned away into the chaos of those devastating explosions. #OperationArk
Mr Farthing, who founded the Nowzad animal shelter in Kabul, has said he will be forced to leave Afghanistan without his 25 Afghan staff and their families after they told him to flee ‘with as many cats and dogs’ as possible.
Animal charity boss Pen Farthing, who is 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
The former Royal Marine, who founded the Nowzad animal shelter in Kabul, has been engaged in a desperate attempt to board an RAF evacuation flight in recent days
Mr Farthing suffered another crippling setback yesterday when the Taliban blocked him from entering the airport so he could board a British military jet
Yesterday, he narrowly avoided the airport suicide bomb blasts which rocked the area, killing 12 US serviceman and up to 90 Afghans.
He 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.
Mr Farthing 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.
Yesterday, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace hit out at criticism from supporters Mr Farthing after they claimed the minister had blocked a flight which would have taken the animals.
Mr Farthing’s group also narrowly avoided the airport suicide bomb blasts which rocked the area yesterday, killing 12 US serviceman and up to 90 Afghans. Above: Wounded Afghans in hospital after the blasts
US officials announced that 12 American troops were killed in the suicide blast. Above: British soldiers in Kabul
Two boys embrace each other as they weep in the parking lot at Wazir Akbar Khan hospital, in Kabul, after the blast
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 Farthing 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.’
Yesterday’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’.
Yesterday 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 yesterday’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 yesterday, 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 yesterday, 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.
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 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.
Yesterday 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.’
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
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)
The toxic battle of Noah’s ark: It’s a bizarre sideshow to the Afghan horror – an ex-marine fighting to evacuate pets in a rescue linked to PM’s wife Carrie… versus the Defence Secretary who has savaged the operation. So whose side are you on?
By Guy Adams for the Daily Mail
Last night Pen Farthing said his convoy of 200 shelter animals and 68 staff was targeted with gunfire after getting access to the airport.
On their way to board a chartered plane, a gunman opened fire in an incident which saw the group’s driver narrowly avoid being shot in the head and the convoy forced to turn back.
Earlier yesterday the charity director pleaded with the Taliban on Twitter to ‘facilitate safe passage’.
Plans to board a privately-funded plane had been derailed due to security fears.
Mr Farthing’s supporter Dominic Dyer, an animal welfare activist, said a plane is waiting in a ‘neighbouring country’ but cannot land in Kabul until Mr Farthing is in the airport. Here Guy Adams looks at how the saga unfolded.
The Defence Secretary, Ben Wallace, is a former Captain in the Scots Guards who now finds himself overseeing one of the most dangerous and challenging military evacuations since Vietnam.
Yet at lunchtime yesterday, the 51-year-old minister found the time to break off from directing proceedings in Kabul to put out seven spectacularly angry tweets.
They were designed to ‘get some facts out there’, as he put it, about his attitude towards Operation Ark, an attempt to evacuate roughly 200 cats and dogs from Afghanistan in the hold of a charter jet that will also carry the staff of a UK-run charity named Nowzad.
In recent days Mr Wallace and his team have been accused of seeking to obstruct the daring animal rescue mission, firstly by failing to help secure permission for the plane to land and secondly by refusing to assist the evacuees (human, canine and feline) in their endeavours to reach the airport.
Supporters of the charity, which is run by a former Royal Marine named Paul ‘Pen’ Farthing, have mounted a highly personal lobbying campaign via social media. This appears to have got under the Defence Secretary’s skin.
Supporters of the charity, which is run by a former Royal Marine named Paul ‘Pen’ Farthing, have mounted a highly personal lobbying campaign via social media
‘The bullying, falsehoods and threatening behaviour by some towards our MoD personnel and advisers is unacceptable and a shameful way to treat people trying to help the evacuation,’ he wrote.
Elsewhere, Mr Wallace denied reports that he’d ever sought to ‘block’ a flight, claiming: ‘This is a total myth and is being peddled around as if that is why the pet evacuation hasn’t taken place.’
He also stated, somewhat provocatively, that in the coming days his ‘priority will be people not pets’. As the hostile tone of these remarks suggest, Operation Ark is now at the centre of an ugly and at times utterly surreal political dispute.
While aspects of it might seem entirely frivolous – the fate of 200 cats and dogs obviously pales in comparison to that of thousands of Afghans attempting to flee Kabul – the row may also raise serious questions about the way in which Boris Johnson’s Government conducts its business.
For the campaign against Mr Wallace has been led by Dominic Dyer, an animal rights activist with close links to the Prime Minister’s spouse Carrie. She even has a picture of him on her Twitter profile.
Dyer has spent the last three days bombarding the Defence Secretary with no fewer than 53 hostile tweets, including one which read ‘F*** this whole sh**** government and their unelected Spads and cronies,’ and others which dubbed Wallace ‘an arrogant, stupid fool of a man’, and a ‘total disgrace’.
He has also attacked Mr Wallace’s special adviser, Peter Quentin, accusing him of ‘dirty tricks’. Yet while launching this attack on a Government minister, Mr Dyer also claims to have enlisted his friend Mrs Johnson to Operation Ark’s cause.
The campaign against Mr Wallace has been led by Dominic Dyer, an animal rights activist with close links to the Prime Minister’s spouse Carrie, pictured
In interviews, he has said that she ‘most certainly’ intervened to persuade the PM to order Mr Wallace to ‘seek a slot’ for the rescue flight.
Although the PM yesterday claimed he ‘had absolutely no influence’ over policy towards the evacuation, it has been reported that Trudy Harrison, his parliamentary private secretary who is seen as a close ally of Mrs Johnson and shares her keen interest in animal rights, did intervene on Operation Ark’s behalf to raise the issue with Defra officials.
It is, all told, a curious affair. And to truly understand it all we must wind the clock back to the summer of 2006 when the aforementioned Royal Marine Pen Farthing arrived in Helmand province with the men of 42 Commando Royal Marines.
During the peacekeeping tour, he was befriended by a horribly mutilated dog that had been used by Afghans in dog fights. Moved by its ‘big, sad eyes’ he took the animal back to the UK.
It became the first of around 1,700 dogs that Mr Farthing rescued, setting up Nowzad – named after the town he’d been stationed in – to give them new lives, often in the West where many became companions of retired soldiers who had served in Afghanistan, helping address post-traumatic stress.
The thoroughly inspiring charity won a string of humanitarian awards and made great strides in educating Afghans about animal welfare and eliminating rabies from Kabul, where the disease is a major public health risk. Staff at its rescue centre in the capital included some of the country’s first female vets.
Then came the Taliban’s takeover, which threatened not only Mr Farthing’s staff (deemed to be at risk of reprisals for having worked for a Western agency) but also his animals: in the 1990s the Taliban forbade the keeping of pets on the grounds that they are regarded as unclean under the organisation’s extremist interpretation of Islam.
Mr Farthing managed to evacuate his Norwegian wife, Kaisa Markhus, and a pregnant American friend. He then vowed to remain in Kabul to secure the safe evacuation of his staff members with their immediate families (who have been given visas to travel to the UK), plus the animals in Nowzad’s care.
In a few days, supporters raised roughly £200,000 to charter planes to take them first to Tashkent in Uzbekistan, roughly 45 minutes from Kabul, and then to Britain.
At this stage, however, problems emerged: amid the chaos of the evacuation, Mr Farthing found himself unable to secure permission for the airplane to land at Kabul.
By the start of this week, he and his staff were also still holed up at their HQ, several miles from the airport, which was by then difficult to access.
There followed a dispute with UK authorities which played out via interviews and Twitter posts.
It began on Tuesday, when Mr Farthing tweeted: ‘Have been left to fend for myself in Kabul.
Cut off from my MoD [Ministry of Defence] support line by the special adviser to Ben Wallace. 22-year marine left behind lines. Neither my staff nor animals will now get out. Cheers.’
In a TV interview he added: ‘We’ve got a privately-funded plane that can take 250 passengers out, 69 of them would be me and the staff, but we’ve got an empty cargo hold. I don’t understand the problems here, I’m not asking the MoD to give me a plane I just need to have a call sign.’
Hours later, Wallace responded on LBC Radio: ‘I have some really desperate people in that queue who are really under threat of life and death, and if we don’t get them out their future is very, very bleak. I simply have to prioritise those people over pets.’
In a second interview, Wallace criticised Mr Farthing’s supporters, saying: ‘Some of the campaigners have latched onto the fact they’ve chartered a plane as if this is somehow the magic wand. The magic wand is whether people can get through Kabul, through the checkpoint, and then through the 3,000-plus people waiting.’
Repeating his provocative soundbite, he added: ‘I am not prepared to prioritise pets over people.’
The remarks met with huge anger from Mr Dyer and his allies, who include a TV vet named Mark Abraham, who helped Mrs Johnson source her pet dog Dilyn. Mr Dyer, a former campaigner against badger culls (an issue on which he has persuaded Mrs Johnson to lobby the PM on) uploaded furious messages to Twitter, urging supporters to ‘get on to Ben Wallace’s Twitter feed… reflect your views’.
Mr Dyer also called the Defence Secretary a ‘bully boy incompetence [sic] fool who is playing politics with the lives of Pen Farthing, his team and animals in Kabul. This man is a total disgrace.’
Replies by his supporters contained Mr Wallace’s office telephone number, which was bombarded with angry calls. Fast forward a few hours, and Mr Wallace announced an effective U-turn.
At 1.33am on Wednesday he uploaded a statement to Twitter saying: ‘Pen Farthing’s staff have been cleared to come forward… I have authorised MoD to facilitate their processing alongside all other eligible personnel at (Kabul airport).
In recent days Mr Wallace and his team have been accused of seeking to obstruct the daring animal rescue mission, firstly by failing to help secure permission for the plane to land and secondly by refusing to assist the evacuees (human, canine and feline) in their endeavours to reach the airport
‘At that stage, if he arrives with his animals we will seek a slot for his plane. If he does not have his animals with him he and his staff can board an RAF flight.’
Mr Dyer responded by posting gleeful videos to Twitter saying that Wallace had ‘had his hands slapped’ and ‘his legs pulled from under him’. He then claimed the change of policy had been ordered by Mr Johnson, possibly at the behest of his wife.
That in turn prompted the by now somewhat frazzled Defence Secretary to tell Tory MPs that his involvement in the ongoing battle over Operation Ark was affecting his ability to oversee the rest of the 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 wrote to them at 4.30pm on Wednesday. ‘And that is not something I would be proud of.’
Whitehall insiders appear to agree. ‘Wallace shouldn’t really have got involved, but everyone is getting fractious and having to get by on very little sleep, and that’s affecting their judgment,’ one says.
‘He’s also been anxious, rightly, to protect his Spad Peter Quentin from abuse. But the way he’s chosen to do it has at times been clumsy and tweeting in the middle of the night and whatnot is never going to be a good look.’
As for Mr Farthing, his employees and their cats and dogs, yesterday morning they were in vehicles baking in the hot sun at Kabul airport.
With the animals starting to struggle with thirst, he used Twitter to lobby another influential figure for help: Suhail Shaheen, the Taliban spokesman.
‘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,’ he wrote.
‘We have been here for 10 hours after being assured that we would have safe passage.’
Around tea time, news came that they had secured access to the airport. However it was later reported that Mr Farthing had been forced to leave after their vehicle was targeted by a gunman.
They intend to return today, so with a following wind, the Operation Ark evacuees get a happy ending. But however this plays out, the political fallout may take far longer to resolve.