A former British Royal Marine and founder of a sanctuary for stray animals in Afghanistan has gotten some good news in his efforts to evacuate hundreds of pets from the Taliban-controlled country — after the UK defense secretary said officials would help.
Paul “Pen” Farthing, 57, who had already been given authorization to get his people out, had been fearing that he will have to euthanize the 140 dogs and 60 cats if he can’t get them out by Aug. 31 — the deadline for foreign forces to leave the war-torn country.
But his so-called “Operation Ark” got a boost Wednesday from British Defense Secretary Benn Wallace.
“Now that Pen Farthing’s staff have been cleared to come forward under LOTR I have authorized MoD [Ministry of Defence] to facilitate their processing alongside all other eligible personnel at HKIA,” Wallace wrote, using the abbreviation for Leave Outside the Immigration Rules.
“At that stage, if he arrives with his animals we will seek a slot for his plane,” he added.
On Tuesday, Farthing said supporters of his organization, Nowzad, have raised enough money to pay for a chartered Airbus A330 out of Kabul — but British officials said there are “thousands and thousands” of people who need to be prioritized first.
Wallace also noted in another tweet Wednesday: “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.
“No one has the right in this humanitarian crisis to jump the queue,” he added.
Farthing announced Monday that the UK granted visas for the 68 members of his staff and their dependents.
“We want to bring in an aircraft with 250 seats and we need only 69 of them,” Farthing told the Sun. “We are paying for it. It costs the taxpayer nothing and could be a bit of good news.”
Farthing has previously said the animals would be transported in the plane’s cargo hold and that once his staff were accommodated, any spare seats could be filled by other people cleared by UK authorities, Sky News reported.
“The cargo hold is empty — we put the dogs and cats in there!! And 250 people above in the cabin!” he said in a tweet.
Wallace earlier said the chartered jet was not a “magic wand” — insisting that the major problem with the evacuations has been getting people safely into the Kabul airport.