An animal charity’s bid to fly animals from Kabul erupted into an angry row on Tuesday when a UK government minister said he would not “prioritise pets over people”.
UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said the private plane could block the airfield in Kabul, from which Nato forces are scrambling to fly people out on jets.
Paul “Pen” Farthing, a British former Royal Marine Commando and founder of the Nowzad charity, wants to charter a flight to transport his Afghan team and rescue animals from Kabul.
The 69 people, including 25 staff and their relatives, have been told they are eligible to move to Britain and have received offers to adopt the animals.
Nowzad supporters have raised money for the flight, but Mr Farthing said officials are delaying their exit.
UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace rejected this.
He said Mr Farthing could board a plane immediately, but that his staff might have to wait for commercial flights to resume after the Nato evacuation ends.
“If that aircraft flew in today, it would probably sit there, it would block the airfield, it would sit there empty,” Mr Wallace told Sky News.
“This is not about whether you’ve got a chartered aircraft. It’s about getting the flow through the gate, through the barriers and into the airport and on to the aircraft.”
Mr Wallace said he did not believe Mr Farthing’s staff or animals would be the “main point of target” for Taliban fighters.
“Once the evacuation is over, I genuinely believe that they will be allowed to move forward at a later date, when that airport opens,” he said. “But, frankly, I have to prioritise people at the moment over pets.”
‘Not on my watch’
Responding to Mr Wallace on Tuesday, Mr Farthing told the broadcaster he would not return to Britain without his staff.
He said the plane had the capacity to carry 250 people and that the animals would be in the cargo hold, so would not take up space that could otherwise be used by humans.
“I never asked you to prioritise pets over people. At no point have I ever said that whatsoever,” he said in the interview, addressing Mr Wallace directly.
Mr Farthing said his team would “sit quite happily and wait” to leave the country, but a delay in granting a call sign was holding up the flight-booking process.
“I said I’m not leaving here without my staff,” he said.
“I’m not going to go the airport and just get on an aeroplane so that his [Mr Wallace’s] problem goes away.”
Mr Farthing also said his staff had yet to receive written proof that they could travel to Britain, and consequently could be held up at Taliban checkpoints.
Britain has flown thousands of people from the city, including Afghan interpreters and their families, but faces a race against time to complete the mission before the deadline of August 31.
Evacuation efforts have been hampered by Taliban guards and chaos in Kabul as people rush to the airport.
The US plans to end its military operations by that date. A possible extension was set to be discussed at talks between G7 leaders later on Tuesday.