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Former Royal Marine is trying to rescue 200 shelter dogs and cats from Kabul. He's finally got approval.

He relentlessly worked with supporters to secure safe passage for the 140 dogs and 60 cats that were being cared for at the Nowzad shelter he founded.

Former Royal Marine is trying to rescue 200 shelter dogs and cats from Kabul. He's finally got approval.
Cover Image Source: Instagram/Pen Farthing

A former British Marine's efforts to rescue 200 shelter animals from his sanctuary in Afghanistan finally bore fruit this week. Although Paul "Pen" Farthing—who served as a Royal Marine for 22 years—had already been given authorization to get his staff out of Kabul, he continued working with supporters to secure safe passage for the 140 dogs and 60 cats that were being cared for at the Nowzad shelter he founded. The campaign, which has come to be known as Operation Ark, saw a glimmer of hope Wednesday when the UK's defense secretary said British officials would help.



"Now that Pen Farthing's staff have been cleared to come forward under LOTR [leave outside the rules] I have authorized MOD to facilitate their processing alongside all other eligible personnel at HKIA. At that stage, if he arrives with his animals we will seek a slot for his plane," Defence Secretary Ben Wallace tweeted. "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."



According to BBC, this came after Wallace said earlier this week that he wasn't prepared to prioritize animals ahead of people "in real danger." Although Nowzad supporters announced on Tuesday that a privately chartered Airbus A330—funded by donations—was on standby to fly to Kabul to rescue the group's workers and animals, Wallace insisted that this still wasn't a "magic wand." He said that since the biggest problem with evacuations in Kabul had been getting people safely into and through the airport, the chartered plane would merely "block the airfield" and "sit there empty," reports The Guardian.



Unfortunately, even after getting approval to fly out with the animals, Farthing tweeted Thursday that his team and the animals were not being allowed inside Kabul Airport to meet the plane. Addressing Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen on Twitter, the former Essex Marine wrote: "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 that will come back to Afghanistan but right now I want to get everyone out safely. 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," he added. Speaking about the Luton flight, wildlife campaigner and broadcaster Dominic Dyer, who has been supporting Operation Ark, said: "We are ready to go, we have a flight plan approved by the secretary of defense's office... and we're ready to hit the runway at Kabul Airport on Friday morning to get Pen and his people off. But they need to get into the airport. We're going to have a plane on the runway and no one to rescue at this rate."



He described the Operation Ark campaign as involving "probably the most high profile group of Afghan refugees anywhere" at the moment. "Now they're on the side of the street trying to keep the dogs and cats from dying of heat exhaustion," Dyer said. "I don't need to hear from ministers anymore that we have a priority list. I don't want to hear this 'we're putting pets before people' - it's nonsense." He added that the animals would be "in the hold and we've got spare capacity in the seating and will take more refugees if we can. This is a Dunkirk-spirit privately paid operation to rescue animals and protect people. It's touch and go... but we're going to get them out of there."


However, efforts to the group out of Afghanistan on Thursday ultimately failed. According to BBC, they also got caught up in the two bomb blasts near the perimeter of Kabul's Hamid Karzai International Airport. In a tweet later that day, Farthing revealed that although they got 300m into the airport grounds, they were prevented from traveling due to a change in paperwork rules by the US just hours earlier. "The whole team & dogs/cats were safely 300m inside the airport perimeter. We were turned away as [President Joe Biden] had changed paperwork rules just 2 hours earlier. Went through hell to get there & we were turned away into the chaos of those devastating explosions," he wrote.


Addressing the new developments, Wallace said he hoped they made it back. He also criticized supporters of Operation Ark for "[taking] up too much time of my senior commanders dealing with this issue when they should be focused on dealing with the humanitarian crisis." He added: "My people were focused for the last two weeks on a humanitarian crisis. And I had to listen sometimes to calls of abuse to my advisers, to my officials, based mainly on falsehoods, that somebody, somewhere had blocked a flight - no-one blocked a flight. Fundamentally, as we have seen on the media, there are desperate, desperate people, and I was not prepared to push those people out of the way for that. When people's time is right, they were called forward, and that's the right thing to do. But I hope he comes back, he was advised to come back, his wife came back last Friday, so I hope he does as well."

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