Ex-marine Pen Farthing and pets cleared for Afghanistan evacuation

Paul “Pen” Farthing, who founded an animal shelter in Kabul, has made it through the airport’s security and is awaiting a flight out of Afghanistan, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has said.

The former Royal Marine and his supporters had been campaigning to get his staff from the Nowzad charity shelter as well as their families, 140 dogs and 60 cats evacuated from the country in a plan he named Operation Ark.

In a tweet posted on Friday evening, 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.”

The MoD did not mention the situation regarding Nowzad staff and their families.

Farthing’s campaign, which received huge public support, has come in for criticism. The defence secretary, Ben Wallace, complained it was distracting those focusing on evacuating the most vulnerable.

Speaking to LBC on Friday, 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.”

Wallace also used a series of tweets to hit out at criticism from Farthing’s supporters and condemned “bullying, falsehoods and threatening behaviour” towards MoD staff.

When asked about the tweets, he told LBC: “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.”

Farthing, who is originally from Dovercourt in Essex, set up the Nowzad animal shelter in Kabul, rescuing dogs, cats and donkeys, after serving in Afghanistan in the mid-2000s.

He said his team were 300 metres inside the perimeter of 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. The bombing also killed 13 US military personnel.

In a tweet, Farthing wrote: “Went through hell to get there & we were turned away into the chaos of those devastating explosions.”

Civilian evacuations from Afghanistan ended on Saturday.

Gen Sir Nick Carter, the head of the UK armed forces, said troops were preparing to head home following a “heartbreaking” effort.

He added that Operation Pitting – the effort to evacuate UK nationals and eligible Afghans from Kabul airport – had “gone as well as it could do in the circumstances”.

The MoD said Farthing was not using military flights, so it could not comment further, adding that it was a matter for the Foreign Office.

The Guardian contacted the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office.

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