Charity’s Afghan staff left behind as founder, animals flown out of Kabul

Charity’s Afghan staff left behind as founder, animals flown out of Kabul
A charity founder and more than 100 of the animals under his care have been flown out of Kabul, but Afghan staff who wanted to leave have been left behind.
3 min read
28 August, 2021
Farthing's wife Kaisa told reporters that the charity's Afghan staff were "his family" [Getty]

An animal charity founder along with more than 100 cats and dogs were evacuated from Kabul on Friday, but some of the charity’s Afghan staff were left behind. 

Paul “Pen” Farthing, an ex-marine, set up the Nowzad animal shelter in Kabul, rescuing stray dogs, cats, and donkeys, after serving in Afghanistan in the mid-2000s. After the Taliban seized the city on 15 August, he raced to get staff and animals out of the city. 

In an evacuation effort dubbed “Operation Ark”, Farthing tried on Thursday to put Afghan staff members, their families, and animals on British flights leaving the country. Farthing was able to board a flight with his animals, but was forced to leave staff members behind, reported the Daily Mail. 

The UK Ministry of Defence Press Office said on Friday that “Pen Farthing and his pets were assisted through the system at Kabul airport by the UK Armed Forces. They are currently being supported while he awaits transportation.” 

Permission to travel was given by UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, the ministry said.

Wallace initially derided the idea of evacuating animals before humans, saying he would “prioritise people over pets”. 

Farthing along with 24 Afghan staff, their families, and the animals caught up in the devastating scenes at Kabul airport after a series of bombings on Thursday, which killed at least 79 Afghans. 

The charity has 68 Afghan staff in total, the BBC said.

Farthing told the British broadcaster that the Taliban pointed a gun in his face twice and would not accept the Afghan staff’s paperwork approved by the British government because of a policy change by US President Joe Biden’s administration.

Farthing’s wife Kaisa told the Mail: “I know Pen had a very hard choice. He faced that same choice when he was inside the airport with his staff and their families on Thursday and the animals and the staff were not allowed through.” 

Kaisa - who herself had to flee Kabul when the Taliban seized control - explained that Farthing and Afghan colleagues decided together that the ex-marine would go to the airport again with the animals on Friday.  

“He was devastated to leave his staff but knew that by removing the dogs and himself he would remove two big risk factors,” Kaisa said. 

“We’re still working on solutions to evacuate the staff,” she added. 

News of Operation Ark’s outcome had a mixed reception in the UK.

While some lauded the evacuation, expressing relief that animals who bought solace to soldiers in times of hardship were safe, others criticised it as a waste of valuable resources. 

Ed Aitken, ex-solider and founder of the SulhaNetwork, a British group campaigning for the protection and evacuation of Afghan interpreters and support staff to the UK army, wrote on Twitter: “I have been intimately involved in the evacuation process. 100s of my interpreters and their families did not get out of Kabul. These animals used up precious processing resources in PJGQ [the MoD HQ] instead of guiding humans to safety. You idiot.”