The defence secretary has cleared a private flight out of Kabul arranged by a British Royal Marine veteran who is determined to evacuate not only the staff who work at his animal shelter, but also some 200 cats and dogs.
Paul Farthing founded the Nowzad shelter after serving with the British Army in Afghanistan in the mid-2000s, to rescue dogs, cats, and donkeys.
Since the fall of Kabul, he has been pushing for 68 visas for his staff and dependents, and making arrangements for 140 dogs and 60 cats to be rescued by a private charter flight in what he has dubbed Operation Ark.
Farthing announced his staff had been granted visas on Aug. 24, but the fate of Operation Ark was thrown into doubt after Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said he had to prioritise the evacuation of “people over pets.”
Wallace said that a privately-arranged charter plane did not resolve the main logistical problem of people not being able to get to the airport. The plane could potentially block the airfield, sitting there empty, he said.
However, in a series of Twitter posts early on Aug. 25, Wallace said if Farthing arrived at the airport with his staff and animals, officials would seek to facilitate their departure aboard the chartered aircraft.
Wallace said that if Farthing, who also goes by the name Pen, didn’t bring the animals, his staff could board an RAF flight as they have all been granted “leave outside the immigration rules” (LOTR) to fly to the UK.
“Now that Pen Farthing’s staff have been cleared to come forward under LOTR I have authorised MOD to facilitate their processing alongside all other eligible personnel at (Kabul airport). At that stage, if he arrives with his animals we will seek a slot for his plane,” Wallace wrote on Twitter.
“If he does not have his animals with him he and his staff can board an RAF flight. I have been consistent all along, ensuring those most at risk are processed first and that the limiting factor has been flow THROUGH to airside NOT airplane capacity.”
A former commander who served in the Marines for 22 years, Farthing garnered significant public following as he refused to abandon his staff and animals after the fall of Kabul, updating his tens of thousands of followers on social media, and giving frequent media interviews.
He previously said that his animals could be carried in the plane’s hold, and that the 180 spare seats could be filled by other evacuees.
“The cargo hold is empty—we put the dogs and cats in there!! And 250 people above in the cabin!” Farthing wrote on Twitter.
Earlier, veterinary surgeon Iain McGill, a Nowzad supporter in the UK, said people were ready to take in the animals once brought to Britain.
“Pen has got transport for all the staff and animals and himself safely to the airport,” McGill told the PA news agency.
“In the airport they can wait for a few days until the plane arrives, they just need to get safe. Pen doesn’t have that long a window because of the military operation.”