A new Channel 4 documentary will revisit the controversial evacuation of animals from Afghanistan after the Taliban seized control of the country in 2021.
Animal Airlift: Escaping The Taliban explores former Royal Marine Pen Farthing’s Operation Ark campaign, which saw 170 dogs and cats flown out of the country on a chartered jet.
So who is Pen Farthing, what was Operation Ark, and is he still involved with the Nowzad animal charity? This is what you need to know.
Who is Pen Farthing?
Paul Farthing, known as “Pen”, founded the Nowzad animal shelter in Kabul after serving with the British Army in Afghanistan in the mid-2000s, with the organisation rescuing dogs, cats and donkeys.
The charity began with Farthing adopting a stray dog while serving in Helmand province and the shelter was looking after 140 dogs and 40 cats before the evacuation last year, with a team of 24 Afghan nationals employed at the shelter.
Farthing’s “Operation Ark” campaign became hugely topical on social media, with some complaining it was distracting from the focus on evacuating the most vulnerable out of Afghanistan.
What was ‘Operation Ark’?
Since the collapse of the Afghan government, Farthing had been campaigning to have all his staff and their families, as well as 200 cats and dogs, evacuated from the country in a plan he dubbed “Operation Ark”.
The UK public first became aware of Farthing on 16 August 2021, when he appeared on ITV’s Good Morning Britain.
Becoming visibly emotional while describing the situation in Kabul, he told the programme: “We have no idea what’s coming next in the next few days, I’m just trying to hold it together.”
The charity launched Operation Ark to fundraise £200,000 to help evacuate Farthing’s staff, their dependants and the charity’s animals out of the country.
Supporters in Britain also began working to try to help Farthing and his team depart safely from Afghanistan.
A drive, called “Rescue the Animal Rescuers”, was set up calling for the Government to help the Nowzad workers and a second animal welfare charity in Kabul called the Mayhew.
Dominic Dyer, an animal welfare campaigner and supporter of Farthing who helped start the campaign, said: “Over the last decade through the incredible work of Nowzad and the Mayhew a new generation of Afghan men and women have been educated and empowered to bring about a significant improvement in animal welfare in Afghanistan.
“We cannot leave these brave and compassionate people behind to face violent reprisals, rape or murder at the hands of the Taliban, as a nation of animal lovers we must step up and rescue the animal rescuers.”
How did Pen Farthing evacuate animals from Afghanistan?
Paul “Pen” Farthing arrived at London’s Heathrow Airport in a privately funded charter flight at about 7.30am on Sunday 29 August 2021. He was able to bring almost 100 dogs and 70 cats with him in the plane’s luggage hold area.
All of the animals on the flight were “healthy”, with the dogs placed in kennels, according to Dyer.
Farthing was unable to evacuate the shelter staff and their families since they did not have the necessary visas to travel.
However, he later learned that some of them had escaped across the Afghan border to Pakistan, and were able to settle in the UK. Some others stayed behind in Afghanistan.
What did he say about his voicemail to the Ministry of Defence?
The ex-Marine apologised for leaving an expletive-laden message for a Government aide at the Ministry of Defence as he was trying to carry out the evacuation.
He told ITV’s Good Morning Britain in August 2021: “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.”
Is Nowzad charity open again?
In February, Farthing tweeted that the staff who stayed in Afghanistan reopened the shelter and were doing what they could to care for vulnerable animals. He posted several photos of the staff working at the shelter during a visit in July.
His most recent tweet about the charity was on 27 July when he said “So that is the end of my trip… the @nowzad team should make you all proud - they truly are determined to continue #AnimalWelfare in Afghanistan for those with [email protected] buts yours #nowzad.”
Where is Pen Farthing now?
On 30 July, Farthing posted on Twitter that he was heading to the Alps for “some me time”, explaining that last year Operation Ark “became too much” and “cost me dearly”.
He added “Need to clear my head and focus on the ‘me’.”
When is the new documentary on?
According to Channel 4, Animal Airlift: Escaping the Taliban offers a “revealing account” of the controversial evacuation and asks, “were pets put before people?”
The documentary airs is on Channel 4 at 10pm on Monday 29 August.
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