Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has said supporters of a former Royal Marine seeking to evacuate animals from Afghanistan have “taken up too much time” of senior commanders dealing with the humanitarian crisis.
Paul Farthing, known as Pen – who founded the Nowzad shelter in Kabul – is aiming to get 200 dogs and cats out of the country, alongside animal shelter staff and a number of children.
The charity worker said that his team and the rescue animals had managed to reach Kabul Airport on Thursday, only to be “turned away” due to changes in paperwork rules made by the US some hours earlier.
Asked if the marine has been a diversion to the overall evacuation mission, Mr Wallace told LBC on Friday: “I don’t think I would say he personally has.
“I think some people have been feeding him all sorts of false narratives that if you’re alone in Kabul you’ll probably believe everything that somebody tells you back from the UK.
“I think it has taken up too much time of my senior commanders dealing with this issue when they should be focused on dealing with the humanitarian crisis.”
Mr Wallace used a series of tweets on Thursday to hit out at criticism from Mr Farthing’s supporters and condemned “bullying, falsehoods and threatening behaviour” towards Ministry of Defence staff.
The Defence Secretary, when asked about his tweets, told LBC: “My people were focused for the last two weeks on a humanitarian crisis.
“And I had to listen sometimes to calls of abuse to my advisers, to my officials, based mainly on falsehoods, that somebody, somewhere had blocked a flight – no-one blocked a flight.
“Fundamentally, as we have seen on the media, there are desperate, desperate people, and I was not prepared to push those people out of the way for that.
“When people’s time is right, they were called forward, and that’s the right thing to do. But I hope he comes back, he was advised to come back, his wife came back last Friday, so I hope he does as well.”
Since the collapse of the Afghan government, Mr Farthing and his supporters have campaigned to have his staff and their families as well as 140 dogs and 60 cats evacuated from the country in a plan he has dubbed Operation Ark.
Mr Farthing said the team were 300m inside Kabul Airport on Thursday but were turned away and as a result got caught up in the terror attack that killed US troops and Afghan civilians queuing up to flee the Taliban.
“Went through hell to get there & we were turned away into the chaos of those devastating explosions,” the charity worker said on Twitter.
Mr Wallace said on Friday that Britain’s evacuation effort in Kabul has entered its final hours and has largely ended processing new evacuees, with the Baron Hotel processing centre now closed.