Hope remains for former Royal Marine Paul ‘Pen’ Farthing and his bid to evacuate 200 dogs and cats alongside staff from his animal shelter in Kabul.
On Wednesday morning, defence secretary Ben Wallace said that once the group, including animals, make it through the airport, they will be allowed to travel on a private charter flight back to the UK.
Since the Taliban swept to power across Afghanistan, Mr Farthing has been campaigning to have his staff, their families, 140 dogs and 60 cats evacuated from the country in a plan that he has called “Operation Ark”.
Earlier this week, Mr Farthing announced that the UK government had granted 68 visas to his staff and their families but said that the evacuation of the shelter’s animals remained a point of contention.
Defence secretary Ben Wallace said that the animals would have to wait, as the UK was prioritising the evacuation of “men, women and children in desperate need at the gates” of the Kabul airport aboard RAF flights out of the country.
Getting around this sticking point, supporters of Mr Farthing’s shelter announced on Tuesday that a privately chartered, donation-funded Airbus A330 was prepared to fly to Kabul to rescue the group’s workers and animals, as well as additional civilians.
In response, the defence secretary said that this solution was still not a “magic wand,” adding that the major issue with evacuations had been getting people safely into and through the airport.
He said on Sky News that the plane would “block the airfield” whilst sitting empty as processing the thousands of people trying to escape Kabul would be the priority over the removal of animals.
But on early on Wednesday morning, Mr Wallace said on Twitter that if Mr Farthing arrived at the Kabul airport with his staff and animals, that UK officials would allow them to board and leave on their chartered aircraft.
“Now that Pen Farthing’s staff have been cleared to come forward under LOTR [Licensed Entry Permits] I have authorised MOD to facilitate their processing alongside all other eligible personnel … At that state, if he arrives with his animals we will seek a slot for his plane.”
Mr Wallace said that if Mr Farthing and his staff did not have the animals with them, they would be permitted to board an RAF flight.
He added: “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”.
Also speaking on Sky News yesterday, Mr Farthing said that at “no point” had he asked the UK government to prioritise pets over people.
He said that he and his team were willing to wait once plans had been drawn up to allow the charter flight to go ahead. He added that the flight, which would put the 200 animals in the cargo hold, would also have capacity for an additional 181 people who could also be evacuated from the country.
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