Taliban Block Ex-Marine's Bid to Get 200 Dogs and Cats Out of Afghanistan

A former British Royal Marine who founded an animal shelter in Kabul has said the Taliban are preventing him from evacuating 200 dogs and cats from the country following explosions in the city on Thursday.

Paul "Pen" Farthing was near the site of the explosion at Hamid Karzai International Airport's Abbey Gate.

Farthing has made a direct appeal to Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen on Twitter and told BBC News on Thursday that he would not leave the country without the animals.

Farthing said: "All hell broke loose at the airport circle which is where I was, which is probably about a mile from the explosions across at the Abbey Gate and we had Taliban there firing into the air."

"One let off a full magazine on automatic from his AK-47 right next to the window of our bus where we had women and children in," he said.

"And as we were trying to then flee from the airport we were getting tear-gassed so we were obviously trying to drive the vehicle when we can't see anything. It was just the most horrific thing," Farthing went on.

Farthing served with British forces in Afghanistan in the mid-2000s and then founded the Nowzad animal shelter to rescue dogs, cats and donkeys. He is now trying to evacuate 140 dogs and 60 cats from the country as well as the shelter's staff. He's called the effort Operation Ark.

"There's nothing I can do. The staff are telling me it's time for me to go. They don't think a foreigner will be welcome here," Farthing told BBC News.

"Staff have asked me to take as many dogs and cats as I can. But now I can't get them past the Taliban check points," he said.

Farthing appealed to Shaheen, a Taliban spokesman, on Twitter on Thursday, asking him to allow Farthing's team to get to the airport with the cats and dogs.

Dear Sir; my team & my animals are stuck at airport circle. We have a flight waiting. Can you please facilitate safe passage into the airport for our convoy? @suhailshaheen1 We are an NGO who will come back to Afghanistan but right now I want to get everyone out safely. 🙏🏼

— Pen Farthing (@PenFarthing) August 26, 2021

"Dear Sir; my team & my animals are stuck at airport circle. We have a flight waiting. Can you please facilitate safe passage into the airport for our convoy?" Farthing wrote.

"We are an NGO who will come back to Afghanistan but right now I want to get everyone out safely," he said.

A private plane had been due to arrive in Kabul from the U.K.'s Luton Airport on Thursday but the flight was canceled due to safety concerns, according to the BBC. A plane from a country neighboring Afghanistan will now be used.

Farthing has said he will not leave the country without his staff and the animals but he also told BBC News that the Taliban are stopping Afghans from getting to the airport even if they have British passports.

Several Western governments have already concluded their evacuations from Kabul, while U.K. Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said on Friday his country's evacuation effort was in its "final hours."

Pen Farthing Speaks Onstage in 2014
CNN Hero of The Year Pen Farthing speaks onstage during the 2014 CNN Heroes: An All Star Tribute at American Museum of Natural History on November 18, 2014 in New York City. Farthing has said he will not leave Afghanistan without the animals and staff from the shelter he founded. Dimitrios Kambouris/WireImage for CNN/Getty Images