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The Operation Ark plane chartered to rescue a former UK marine who founded an animal shelter in Afghanistan touched down at London's Heathrow airport on Sunday, as the row over whether his 173 cats and dogs should have been evacuated intensified.
The National understands Paul “Pen” Farthing subsequently boarded a connecting flight to Norway to be reunited with his wife Kaisa Markhus.
His rescued animals were less free to travel and were immediately taken into quarantine, with the prospect of being put down if they are found to be diseased.
Should this materialise, it would add further heat to the row raging over whether the UK government was right to sanction their evacuation.
Conservative politician Tom Tugendhat has been a fierce critic of the decision, arguing the resources and troops required to get the Operation Ark chartered flight out of Kabul would have been better deployed assisting Afghan nationals fleeing for their lives.
The row has been growing in intensity for the last for the last few days.
In a seven-tweet thread on Thursday, UK Defence Minister Ben Wallace accused Nowzad supporters of “unacceptable” bullying of Ministry of Defence personnel and rejected suggestions the Operation Ark flight had ever been blocked.
While it was not public knowledge at the time, Mr Wallace's allusion to intimidating behaviour may have stemmed from an angry message Mr Farthing allegedly sent to a government adviser last Monday in which he allegedly threatens to “destroy” him.
The audio of the profane tirade allegedly targeting Ministry of Defence official Peter Quintin has since been leaked to The Times.
“Get me out of Afghanistan with my staff and my animals. I served for 22 years in the Royal Marine Commandos. I am not taking this b******s from people like you who are blocking me,” Mr Farthing is allegedly heard to say on the tape.
“You’ve got til tomorrow morning. I’m on Sky News around about 7.45 and your name will be the only name people are talking about.”
Operation Ark supporter accuses UK government of smear campaign
Friends of Pen Farthing have said the leak is a deliberate attempt by the UK government to besmirch the Nowzad animal shelter founder's reputation.
Shortly before the Operation Ark flight landed, one of its benefactors, wildlife protection campaigner Dominic Dyer, expressed his concern that the mission could be foiled if the Taliban did not relent.
In an impassioned video on Twitter he called Mr Farthing a “national hero” and said attempts to stain his character would fail.
Initially, Mr Farthing had been attempting to get 69 people out of Afghanistan alongside him and his animals.
The number comprised Nowzad members of staff and their families but the Taliban prevented them from leaving, despite clearance from the UK government.
They later told Mr Farthing to go on without them, a goodbye he told The Sun was heart breaking,
“I feel very sad for them [but] I’m relieved for me and I feel happy for the animals,” he said.
Mr Farthing packed 125 kilograms of dry pet food, 72 tins, 270 litres of water, 12 industrial size rolls of paper towel and 20 bottles to cater for the animals on the flight back to the UK, according to the same newspaper.
The provisions appear to have done the trick. Operation Ark vet Dr Iain McGill told the BBC the animals were in “very good shape” on the whole.
If they do make it through quarantine without being put down, then he said they are “not short of [offers for] homes".