Pen Farthing and Operation Ark: All you need to know as he’s accused of ‘threatening’ aide over Kabul flight

Pen Farthing and Operation Ark: All you need to know as he’s accused of ‘threatening’ aide over Kabul flight

Pen Farthing’s name has been in the headlines for most of the past two weeks amid a battle to get him, his staff and his animals out of Afghanistan.

The former Royal Marine founded an animal shelter in Kabul and had been trying to get safe passage out of the country as part of a campaign he dubbed “Operation Ark”.

But the movement has not been without its controversies, with defence secretary Ben Wallace blaming the campaign for being a distraction from the evacuation effort.

And in the latest development, Farthing has been accused of leaving an expletive-laden message for a Government aide as he sought to place his staff and pets on the flight.

So what’s it all been about, and where is he now? Here’s everything you need to know about him and his case:

Who is he?

Former Royal Marine Paul Farthing, known as “Pen”, founded the Nowzad animal shelter in Kabul, Afghanistan, rescuing dogs, cats and donkeys.

He started the shelter after serving in Afghanistan in the mid-2000s.

Why has he been in the news recently?

After the collapse of the Afghan government, Farthing and his supporters campaigned to have his staff and their families, as well as 140 dogs and 60 cats from the Nowzad shelter, evacuated from the country.

Although visas were granted for his 24 staff and their dependents, Farthing refused to leave without his pets.

The campaign, which he dubbed as Operation Ark, received a huge amount of public support and was widely shared on social media, but caused significant controversy. Defence secretary Ben Wallace complained it was distracting those focusing on evacuating the most vulnerable.

Did he, his staff and the animals get out of Afghanistan?

On Monday last week, a jubilant Farthing announced the UK Government has granted visas for all of his staff and their dependents.

Veterinary surgeon Dr Iain McGill later said a privately chartered Airbus A330 – funded by donations – was on standby to fly to Kabul to rescue the group.

But on Thursday, Farthing claimed on social media that his team and the rescue animals had managed to reach Kabul Airport, only to be “turned away” due to changes in paperwork rules made by the US some hours earlier.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) denied that a flight had been blocked.

Then, on Friday, the MoD announced that the ex-marine and his animals were at Kabul airport and clearance for their charter flight had been sponsored by the UK Government.

On Sunday morning, it was reported that he and around 170 animals had landed safely at Heathrow.

But the privately funded charter flight was not carrying his 24 staff and dependents from the Nowzad shelter in Kabul, his friend Dominic Dyer said. He said Farthing was forced to travel back alone after being told it was not possible to find people to fill the plane’s seats.

All of the almost 100 dogs and 70 cats on the flight were “healthy”, with the dogs placed in kennels, Dyer said.

How did the Government react to his campaign?

Wallace had said that Farthing could leave Afghanistan as he was a British passport holder and urged him to do so. But he said he would not prioritise the animals “over the men, women and children we see in desperate need at the gate”.

He told Sky News: “I regret that, but I don’t believe that the Taliban’s main point of target will be his workforce and indeed the pets and the animals he is looking after compared to some of those other people desperate in front of the queue.

“Frankly I have to prioritise people at the moment over pets.” He also said the chartered flight was not a “magic wand”.

However, in a series of tweets early on Wednesday, Wallace said if Farthing arrived at the airport with his staff and animals, officials would seek to facilitate their departure aboard the chartered aircraft.

Then on Thursday, amid claims that a flight had been blocked, Wallace used a series of tweets to hit out at the criticism from Farthing’s supporters and condemned “bullying, falsehoods and threatening behaviour” towards MoD staff.

He said it was a “total myth” that he has blocked a flight to evacuate animals out of Afghanistan and called for critics to allow civil servants and the military to deal “with one of the most dangerous and challenging evacuations for a generation”.

He added: “The bullying, falsehoods and threatening behaviour by some towards our MOD personnel and advisors is unacceptable and a shameful way to treat people trying to help the evacuation. They do their cause no good.”

Meanwhile, reports suggested the Prime Minister’s wife Carrie had stepped in to push for his rescue.

Asked about the reports on Thursday, Boris Johnson said: “I’ve had absolutely no influence on any particular case, nor would that be right. That’s not, that’s not how we do things in this country.”

Why is he in the news again today?

According to the Sunday Times, Farthing left an expletive-laden message for a Government aide as he sought to place his staff and pets on the flight out of Afghanistan.

The newspaper said it had obtained a leaked audio recording of Farthing berating Peter Quentin, a special adviser to the defence secretary, who he accused of “blocking” efforts to arrange a flight.

In the recorded message, reportedly sent on Monday, Farthing apparently threatened to “destroy” Quentin on social media if he did not help arrange the evacuation.

He apparently said: “I just found out that is you blocking me getting this flight out of Afghanistan for my staff and the animals. So here’s the deal buddy. You either get me that f****** Isaf number and you get me permission to get on to that f****** airfield, or tomorrow morning I’m going to turn on you and the whole f****** country, and everybody else who’s invested in this rescue, is going to know it’s you, you, blocking this f****** move. Alright?”.

And allegedly continued: “I will get my staff out of here and I’ll get so many other people out of here on this flight and then the dogs and cats are going in the cargo hold. Nobody can sit in the cargo hold, only the animals.”

Farthing also apparently demanded paperwork saying his staff had been “approved”, otherwise he was “going to spend the rest of my time f****** destroying you on social media and every other f****** platform I can find”.

He said he had served for 22 years in the Royal Marines and he was “not taking this bollocks from people like you who are blocking me”.

Farthing insisted that he was “taking people out of this country and others on a privately funded plane”.

How have people reacted to the latest claims?

Some have accused the reports of being a “smear campaign” against Farthing, and claim the story is being used as a distraction to focus attention away from any criticism of the Government’s evacuation effort.

But others believe Farthing’s campaign was a distraction from wider issues.

Farthing’s friend and supporter Dominic Dyer told the PA news agency: “Peter Quentin is a political adviser working in the shadows of the MoD under the command of Ben Wallace.

“I believe he was instrumental in seeking to undermine support for Operation Ark across Whitehall despite this being a privately funded humanitarian mission with huge public and political support.

“Pen Farthing who was risking his life in Kabul to get his people and animals to Britain was completely justified in holding Mr Quentin to account for his actions and I think it’s time Ben Wallace came clean on how this rogue advisor attempted to delay flight authorisation for operation arc into Kabul.”

The Ministry of Defence have declined to comment.

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