MP’s dismay at Pen Farthing’s animal evacuation from Afghanistan

A Kent MP who served as an intelligence officer in Afghanistan has questioned whether evacuating 170 animals from the country was the best use of resources. Tom Tugendhat (Con), the Tonbridge and Malling representative, is among a number of ex-forces MPs to have criticised the withdrawal of British troops.

Tom Tugendhat said: "What would you say if I sent an ambulance to save my dog rather than your mother?" Picture: Andy Jones Tom Tugendhat said: “What would you say if I sent an ambulance to save my dog rather than your mother?” Picture: Andy Jones

And he has since voiced his dismay after a former Royal Marine who founded an animal shelter in Afghanistan evacuated dozens of cats and dogs. Paul “Pen” Farthing arrived at London’s Heathrow Airport in a privately-funded charter flight at about 7.30am yesterday, following his Operation Ark campaign to get workers and animals from the Nowzad shelter in Kabul out of the country.

Speaking to LBC, host Matt Frei asked Mr Tugendhat: “There’s a lot of controversy and a lot of debate about whether this was the right or wrong thing to do. What’s your view on that?”

The MP said: “People have been focusing on the aeroplanes. It’s not the aeroplanes that are the problem.

“There is quite a lot of space on the aeroplanes. They’re coming and going relatively easily.

Pen Farthing, who founded the Nowzad Dogs charity. Picture: Alison Westbrook Pen Farthing, who founded the Nowzad Dogs charity. Picture: Alison Westbrook

“The difficulty is getting people into and out of the airport and we’ve just used a lot of troops to bring in 200 dogs. Meanwhile, my interpreter’s family are likely to be killed.

As one interpreter asked me a few days ago, ‘why is my five year old worth less than your dog?'” Mr Frei asked how he responded, to which Mr Tugendhat said: “I didn’t have an answer, what would your answer be?” The LBC host did not answer and said the MP had made a good point.

Mr Tugendhat added: “We’ve got an NHS in the United Kingdom that taxes us all about one in seven pounds we spend.

What would you say if I sent an ambulance to save my dog rather than your mother?” A mass airlift has been under way since the Taliban took control of the capital of Afghanistan, Kabul, with a deadline of August 31 in place for UK and American troops to leave the country.

Tom Tugendhat has been outspoken on the UK's withdrawal from Afghanistan. Image: Parliament TV Tom Tugendhat has been outspoken on the UK’s withdrawal from Afghanistan. Image: Parliament TV

The Allied forces first entered Afghanistan in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks on the US, with the war starting in 2001. The Ministry of Defence has said the UK’s final evacuation flight purely for civilians has left Kabul, with further flights expected to only have UK diplomatic and military personnel on board.

Chairman of the foreign affairs select committee Mr Tugendhat gave a powerful speech during an emotionally-charged Commons debate earlier this month on the sorry situation. Meanwhile, a recording, obtained by The Times, captured Mr Farthing berating Peter Quentin, a special adviser to Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, earlier in the week, accusing him of “blocking” efforts to arrange the evacuation flight. Speaking today, Mr Farthing told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: “I’m incredibly embarrassed about my language, I do apologise to everybody who’s listened to that.

“I was at the lowest point I could possibly be. I understand how the world works but emotions got the better of me, so for all those who had to listen to that I do apologise for my language. “I should not have said it like that, but the sentiment, yes, I was just incredibly upset, angry, frustrated, it was the lowest point.

I had no other option, I didn’t know what else to do. “So that’s why you’ve probably heard some colourful language.” Mr Farthing’s Operation Ark campaign became hugely topical on social media, but Mr Wallace had complained it was distracting from the focus on evacuating the most vulnerable out of Afghanistan.

Mr Wallace previously said Ministry of Defence staff had faced abuse from Mr Farthing’s supporters.

Pen Farthing evacuated 170 dogs and cats from Afghanistan. Picture: Alison Westbrook Pen Farthing evacuated 170 dogs and cats from Afghanistan.

Picture: Alison Westbrook

However, Mr Farthing dismissed claims that he was helped by the UK government to get into Kabul airport with his animals. He said: “Nobody in the British government facilitated my entry into that airport – I did that with the Taliban. “I came up to the British checkpoint, that was the first time – and this is well into the airport, the Taliban and British are stood there, there’s some barbed wire separating them – that was the first time I spoke to any British people.

“So whoever is making any accusations or any comments needs to actually have been stood there on the ground to see how I got into that airport. “Nobody facilitated my entry… any interpreters or anybody else, there was me and the truck full of dogs and cats, which went into a cargo hold where you cannot put people.”

Pen Farthing arrived at London's Heathrow Airport in a privately funded charter flight on Sunday. Picture: Alison Westbrook Pen Farthing arrived at London’s Heathrow Airport in a privately funded charter flight on Sunday. Picture: Alison Westbrook

Mr Farthing added he was the only person on the flight but he was told there was “enough capacity” to get the remaining people in the airport out. He said: “I was probably like the last person to enter that airport – it was closed.

Americans, the British, had obviously stopped taking people in because there had to be a point where they stopped taking people in. “So they assured me they had enough capacity for everybody who was inside the airport.” All of the almost 100 dogs and 70 cats on the flight were “healthy”, with the dogs placed in kennels, according to Dominic Dyer, an animal welfare campaigner and supporter of Mr Farthing.

Foreign Office minister James Cleverly insisted the government had prioritised the evacuation of people over pets. He told LBC Radio: “We have always prioritised evacuating people over evacuating animals. “Mr Farthing is a British national, he had the opportunity to leave Afghanistan much earlier.

His staff are enrolled on to the scheme by which Afghans that worked with the British were able to be evacuated.

“But as I have said, we have always prioritised the evacuation of people.”

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