Images of mothers handing their babies over to soldiers while desperately trying to get them out of Kabul as it fell to the Taliban are seared into the minds of many.
But it was a story about dogs and cats that threatened to take over in August 2021 as Pen Farthing desperately tried to get the dogs his Nowzad charity had rescued, and their staff, out of Afghanistan.
Supporters raised hundreds of thousands of pounds to charter a flight to evacuate them, but the former Marine, Mr Farthing, accused the Foreign Office of blocking the evacuation flight.
Farthing and her animals finally left Afghanistan on August 28, two days before the last British evacuation flight as part of Operation Pitting. The Taliban did not allow some of their staff to enter the airport, despite being granted British visas, but they managed to leave via Pakistan.
Read more: Prime Minister’s aide ‘contacted a charter company to secure a plane to evacuate animals from Kabul’
controversy at the time
While Mr. Farthing received a lot of support when he tried to get the animals and his staff out, there was also a lot of criticism of him and the government’s response.
One of the main issues of controversy was claims that animal lives were being placed above human lives, with the British leaving behind hundreds of Afghans eligible for evacuation.
The government was accused of allowing British troops to divert their attention from evacuating people to help get the dogs out and wasting valuable time when humans could have been evacuated.
Farthing was also accused of threatening special adviser to the Secretary of Defense, Ben Wallace, with a leaked voicemail accusing him of blocking the flight and warning that he would “destroy” it if he did not immediately approve the flight.
The charity’s boss apologized, saying he did so “out of frustration” but denied the other claims, saying his charter flight needed no troops, was privately paid for and given the go-ahead by the government.
Did Boris Johnson intervene personally?
At the time, the prime minister denied intervening to remove the dogs, saying on January 27 that it was “total rhubarb” that he approved the airlift.
But Dominic Dyer, a friend of Farthing’s who coordinated the Nowzad evacuation, said he put pressure on Johnson’s wife, Carrie, who is a friend.
Dyer said he had no doubt that she persuaded her husband to intervene.
Then Raphael Marshall, a former Foreign Office employee involved in Operation Pitting, gave written evidence to parliament that the Foreign Office had “been instructed” by the Prime Minister to use “considerable capacity” to help evacuate the animals.
He also alleged that British soldiers put themselves at risk to help them.
But Farthing denied this, telling the government that Marshall’s evidence is “unverified” and “nonsense.”
Why has the topic come up again?
As part of an ongoing investigation into the evacuation from Afghanistan, the Foreign Affairs Select Committee released relevant documents in late January 2022.
This included an email to the Foreign Ministry evacuation team from an official saying that Nowzad had “received a lot of publicity” and that “the prime minister had just authorized the evacuation of his staff and animals”.
In December 2021, Johnson said “complete nonsense” had intervened.
One of the newly released documents, from Mr. Raphael to the committee, said that a colleague told the team “we are doing the dogs” and that the Prime Minister had issued this instruction at an emergency COBRA meeting or Council of National security.
He also told the committee that “several” colleagues had sent messages to Teams saying they had been instructed by the prime minister to “call Nowzad staff for evacuation.”
The prime minister’s assistant ‘negotiated with Nowzad evacuation with charter company’
Following the publication of the latest emails, an employee of a charter company told Sky News that the Prime Minister’s parliamentary assistant, Trudy Harrison, contacted them to try to get a plane to transport Farthing and her dogs out of Kabul.
The employee said Ms Harrison, who is also a Copeland MP, made it clear to the company that she worked for the prime minister, repeatedly referring to the “boss” and the firm felt it was obvious her requests came with the backing. of the prime minister.
Ms. Harrison confirmed that she had contacted several companies to help with the evacuation effort and said that she was the Prime Minister’s assistant, but said that he was not involved in the plans.