Ben Wallace accuses ex-Royal Marine charity boss in Afghanistan of trying to put 'pets over people'
Defence Secretary and Wyre and Preston North MP Ben Wallace has accused an ex-Royal Marine of trying to put ‘pets over people’ after he raised more than £200,000 for the rescue of his animals and staff from Afghanistan.
Mr Wallace said he will not “prioritise pets over people” in response to Paul ‘Pen’ Farthing bid to evacuate rescue animals and staff from Afghanistan which was “blocked”.
Former marine, Mr Farthing, 52, is now an animal charity founder and he has claimed that the Ministry of Defence (MoD) blocked a chartered flight he had organised himself to fly his 69 employees and 100 animals out of Kabul and back to the UK.
However the defence secretary dismissed the claims that the MoD abandoned him as “bollocks“.
The Nowzad animal shelter in Kabul rescues dogs, cats and donkeys and it was founded by Mr Farthing after he served with the British Army in Afghanistan in the mid-2000s.
He raised more than £200,000 for the rescue of his staff and animals.
On Monday morning, Mr Farthing said that “Operation Ark is go” and that Prime Minister Boris Johnson had said 68 of the charity’s staff would be able to get UK visas.
However Mr Farthing's delight turned to anger after allegedly the MOD stopped the privately funded commercial plane landing in the Kabul military airfield, he said.
He said that he had been “cut off” by Mr Wallace’s advisor and was “left to fend for myself in Kabul”.
On his Twitter account, a tweet said: “22 year Marine left behind lines.. neither my staff or animals will now get out – cheers.”
However, during an interview with Sky News today, Mr Wallace criticised Mr Farthing calling his comments “utter nonsense” and that he should leave the Middle East country on an RAF flight. He added that he would have to leave the staff and animals behind and attempt to repatriate them in the future.
Mr Wallace told Sky News: “He could get through the gates as a British passport holder. He was called forward on Friday and I recommend he takes that.
“Some of the campaigners have latched onto the fact they’ve chartered a plane as if this is somehow the magic wand.
“The magic wand is whether people can get through Kabul, through the Taliban checkpoint, and then through the 3,000-plus people waiting.”
He added: “I am not prepared to prioritise for example pets over people. I want people to come through that flow.”
In response, and also on Sky News, Mr Farthing said: “We’ve got a flight and we said ‘we will wait you’ve just got to give us this call sign so we can get it into play.'”
He also hit back at comments that getting to the airport is the true problem. He said: “He’s just told me to get to the airport and I’m taking my staff and animals with me. This whole thing is absolutely just a disaster.”
Mr Wallace said the charity’s Afghan staff would be allowed to come to the UK but he said he was unable to promise them that they would all be able to be brought back on RAF planes by the August 31 deadline, reiterating: “Not everyone will get through”.
He continued: “Once the evacuation is over I genuinely believe that for his workforce, and if he wants to repatriate the pets he looks after and the strays, I genuinely believe they’ll be allowed to move forward at a later date when that airport opens.
“But frankly I have to prioritise people at the moment over pets.”
Last night Mr Farthing tweeted: “I am staying with my staff and animals. I’ll get them in that airport and I will get my flight in.
“You picked on the wrong person to back down @BWallaceMP – I served 22 years as a @RoyalMarines We don’t quit.”