Defence Secretary blasts criticism over animal evacuations from Afghanistan

The Defence Secretary has hit out at criticism from supporters of a former Royal Marine who is seeking to evacuate animals from Afghanistan.

Paul Farthing, known as Pen, who founded the Nowzad shelter in Kabul, is aiming to get 200 dogs and cats alongside his animal shelter staff out of the country.

Ben Wallace rejected claims he had blocked a flight to take the animals, saying it was a “total myth”.

It came as Boris Johnson denied he had had any influence on the rescue attempts.

In a series of tweets, Mr Wallace lashed out at “bullying, falsehoods and threatening behaviour” towards Ministry of Defence staff.

He said: “Let’s get some facts out there: One. No one, at any stage has blocked a flight.

“This is a total myth and is being peddled around as if that is why the pet evacuation hasn’t taken place.

“Two. I never said I would not facilitate. I said no one would get to queue jump.

“Three. The issue, as those desperate people waiting outside the gates know too well, has always been getting processed through the entrances. It can take over 24 hours. There is no point turning up with a plane until the passengers / pets are airside.

“Four. As people were processed ARAP (Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy), LOTR (Leave outside the Immigration Rules) etc they were called forward. Once processed and on the airfield they are marshalled on to a plane. As I have said we will facilitate at all stages but the priority will be people not pets.”

Mr Wallace went on to say there had been no “U-turn” over the issue, calling for critics to allow civil servants and the military to deal “with one of the most dangerous and challenging evacuations for a generation”.

He added: “The bullying, falsehoods and threatening behaviour by some towards our MOD personnel and advisors is unacceptable and a shameful way to treat people trying to help the evacuation.

“They do their cause no good.”

Since the collapse of the Afghan government, Mr Farthing and his supporters have campaigned to have his staff and their families as well as 140 dogs and 60 cats evacuated from the country in a plan he has dubbed Operation Ark.

Taliban resurgence in Afghanistan
The Prime Minister has denied having any influence (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

Reports have suggested the Prime Minister’s wife Carrie stepped in to push for his rescue.

Asked about the reports on Thursday, Mr Johnson said: “I’ve had absolutely no influence on any particular case, nor would that be right.

“That’s not, that’s not how we do things in this country.”

On Thursday morning, Mr Farthing issued a plea on Twitter to ensure his “safe passage” into Kabul airport.

Addressing the Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen, Mr Farthing said: “Dear Sir; my team & my animals are stuck at airport circle. We have a flight waiting. Can you please facilitate safe passage into the airport for our convoy?

“We are an NGO who will come back to Afghanistan but right now I want to get everyone out safely.”

He added: “We have been here for 10 hours after being assured that we would have safe passage. Truly would like to go home now. Let’s prove the IEA are taking a different path.”

His friend and supporter Dominic Dyer, from Milton Keynes, said a privately funded plane had been due to land on Friday from Luton airport, but plans had to be scrapped due to security fears.

Mr Dyer said another plane is now waiting in a “neighbouring country” but cannot land in Kabul until Mr Farthing is granted entry into the airport.

He told the PA news agency: “We have a plan in place and we can act swiftly, but not until he’s granted entry into the airport.

“It’s a complicated situation and the door is closing, the next 24 to 48 hours are crucial – we need it to happen before then to avoid him, his staff and the animals becoming stuck in the country.

“There are options for him to go back to his centre and hunker down or he could try and leave the country on the road – but there are fears over the Taliban closing the borders, so it’s unclear what’s going to happen.”