LONDON: The British owner of a shelter in Afghanistan is allowed to evacuate around 200 cats and dogs in a charter plane from Kabul, the British Defense Secretary said on Wednesday in an apparent descent.
Former Marine Paul “Pen” Farthing’s high profile campaign to evacuate his animals has sparked controversy as thousands of people want to flee the Taliban by August 31 before US troops withdraw.
After serving in the British Army in Afghanistan, Farthing founded an animal aid organization in Kabul called Nowzad that rescues cats, dogs and donkeys.
He is staying in Kabul and has financed an airplane to fly out his employees and their families as well as around 200 cats and dogs in what he calls Operation Ark.
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UK Defense Secretary Ben Wallace had previously said it was wrong to “prioritize pets over people” while thousands wait outside the airport. Many fear reprisals from the Taliban, which began on Sept.
But Wallace tweeted early Wednesday that he had authorized officials to handle Farthing’s Afghan personnel at Kabul airport.
As soon as that happens, “when he (farthing) arrives with his animals, we’ll find a place for his plane,” said Wallace.
He stressed that the “limiting factor” was the maintenance of the evacuation flow, “not the aircraft capacity”.
Wallace added that Farthing and his Afghan staff, who were granted a British visa, could leave on a Royal Air Force flight without the animals.
The Secretary of Defense told Sky News on Tuesday that the plane Farthing chartered would “block the airfield” and “sit empty” while officials handled other passengers waiting in a huge queue.
“As for the animals he (Farthing) rescued and rescued, it simply will not be the case that I prefer them to the men, women and children we see in dire need at the gate.”
Farthing has launched a campaign, backed by celebrities like comedian Ricky Gervais, complaining about the UK Department of Defense’s stance.
British tabloids traditionally support campaigns to help animals abroad, and The Sun wrote on Wednesday that Wallace had given the “flight of grace” a “glimmer of hope”.
Farthing said he could carry animals in the hold of the 250-seater plane and take Afghans on spare seats.
According to the Department of Defense, Britain has evacuated more than 10,000 people from Afghanistan since Aug. 13 and more military flights are planned for Wednesday.
Foreign Minister Dominic Raab praised the operation on Sky News on Wednesday, saying: “This has never happened before and no country has done it better.”