The curious case of Pen Farthing, Carrie Johnson and the Afghan animal airlift
Row breaks out over former Marine’s attempt to evacuate cats and dogs
The Ministry of Defence has denied claims that the prime minister’s wife personally intervened in the bid to fly 173 cats and dogs out of Kabul.
A “furious row” has broken out over the animal rescue mission, led by former Marine Paul Farthing, known as Pen, who set up the Nowzad animal shelter in Afghanistan after serving in the war in the mid-2000s, said the Daily Mail.
Farthing, a British national, had refused to board a flight out of the capital unless his staff and animals could come too. But Defence Secretary Ben Wallace had been adamant that he must prioritise “people over pets” in the increasingly fraught scramble to evacuate those trapped at Hamid Karzai International Airport after Kabul fell under Taliban control last week.
He refused to allow Farthing’s animals to board one of the RAF flights for safety reasons. On Tuesday, Nowzad supporters said a privately chartered Airbus A330, funded by donations, was on standby for the shelter rescue mission and could also airlift other Afghans cleared by the UK for passage out of Kabul.
Wallace initially resisted calls to approve the chartered plane but changed his mind in the early hours of Wednesday morning, prompting animal rights campaigner Dominic Dyer – said to be a friend of Farthing and Carrie Johnson – to claim that the PM’s wife “most certainly had something to do with the change”, reported The Times.
Dyer said that the prime minister must have had “very interesting conversations” with Wallace to reverse the decision.
Downing Street and the MoD have rejected the claim that Carrie had anything to do with the decision. But the Daily Mail said the U-turn is still “likely to raise questions about the extent to which Mr Johnson is personally managing the evacuation, and the role his wife – an animal rights advocate who also encouraged the prime minister to pursue his green agenda – is playing in the Afghanistan crisis”.
According to Sky News, Wallace told MPs on Wednesday afternoon that diverting soldiers on the ground from saving civilian staff and Afghans was “not something I would be proud of”. He continued: “What I was not prepared to do is prioritise pets over people, I’m afraid you might dislike me for that but that’s my view. There are also some very, very desperate people under real threat.”
The problem now for Farthing, and thousands of others trying to flee the country, is getting past Taliban checks to get into the US-controlled airport. This morning, The Sun revealed that Farthing and his team had been blocked by Taliban guards after making a “midnight dash” to the airport, but were let through after an hour’s wait.
Yet, even after arriving at the airport, this morning he said they had been waiting eight hours to get in and appealed to the UK and Taliban to allow them through for fear that the animals on his trucks would not survive in the heat.
Armed Forces Minister James Heappey told Sky News this morning: “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.”