The founder of an animal rescue charity has accused the Ministry of Defence of "blocking" his flight out of Afghanistan after an emergency campaign raised enough money to evacuate his staff and animals.
Former marine Pen Farthing refused to leave the country without his staff and animals as the Taliban took control of the country’s capital, Kabul.
Last week he launched a fundraiser called Operation Ark in an attempt to raise enough money to charter a plane out of Afghanistan, which was backed by celebrities including Ricky Gervais and Deborah Meaden. By the end of the week the campaign had raised more than £200,000.
In an interview with Sky News yesterday, Farthing said that Prime Minister Boris Johnson had granted visas for 68 Nowzad staff members and their dependents to travel to the UK.
However, he told the broadcaster that the charity had not been granted the relevant permissions for a commercial flight to land at a military airfield, and that the MoD had “blocked” him by cutting off his helpline.
“I can’t get into the airport because the MoD won’t talk to me,” Farthing said.
Responding to the claims, the defence secretary Ben Wallace told Sky News that no one was blocking the chartered flight, but said the issue was whether Farthing and his team could get through the airport gates.
Wallace said: “I’m afraid some of the campaigners have latched onto the fact that they have chartered a plane as though this is a magic wand. The magic wand is whether people can get through Kabul, through the Taliban checkpoints, and through the 3,000-strong crowd of people – some of whom are at the front of the queue because they are in immediate danger.”
Wallace said that Farthing had been contacted last week and strongly advised to leave the country.
He confirmed that the charity’s staff were entitled personnel and had also been offered places, but added: “I could not guarantee that in this window they will be processed onto aircraft.”
He continued: “As for the animals that [Farthing] has rescued and saved, it is just not the case that I will prioritise them over the men, women and children that we see in desperate need at the gate.”
In response, Farthing said that getting to the airport was not the issue. “I'll be in the airport with my staff and animals. I need my flight to be able to land,” he said.