Whistleblower Says U.K. Forces Evacuated Shelter Animals Rather Than Helping Afghans Leave

A whistleblower alleged Tuesday that the United Kingdom arranged the evacuation of hundreds of animals from a shelter in Afghanistan instead of helping more people evacuate the country.

Raphael Marshall, a former Foreign Office employee, told the parliamentary committee that British officials arranged for the evacuation of animals at a Kabul animal shelter and put British Soldiers at risk to get them out.

Max Blain, a spokesperson for Prime Minister Boris Johnson, denied the claims and said the accusations were "entirely untrue."

Marshall claimed that employees at the Foreign Office were given instructions "from the prime minister to use considerable capacity to transport Nowzad's animals."

Nearly 200 dogs and cats allegedly were flown out from the animal shelter.

Blain denied any involvement from Johnson or his wife Carrie in helping evacuate the animals. However, he said British officials gave Royal Marine Pen Farthing, the founder of the charity and animal shelter in Kabul, clearance to leave Afghanistan on a chartered private plane with his animals.

"We are confident that at no point clearance for that charter plane interrupted our capability to evacuate people," Blain said.

The Taliban took over the country in August. British officials said that in two weeks, they airlifted at least 15,000 people out of the country. Since the initial evacuation, British officials say they have helped at least 3,000 more people leave Afghanistan.

 Dominic Raab, Afghanistan, Evacuation
British Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab, the former foreign secretary, arrives ahead of the government's weekly Cabinet meeting in Downing Street in London on December 7, 2021. Britain’s Foreign Office abandoned many of the nation’s allies in Afghanistan and left them to the mercy of the Taliban during the fall of the capital, Kabul, because of a dysfunctional and arbitrary evacuation effort, whistleblower Raphael Marshall alleged Tuesday. Aaron Chown/PA/AP Photo

Marshall said thousands of pleas for help via email were unread between August 21 and 25. The former Foreign Office employee estimated that only 5 percent of Afghan nationals who applied to flee under one U.K. program received help. He said that at one point, he was the only person monitoring the inbox.

"There were usually over 5,000 unread emails in the inbox at any given moment, including many unread emails dating from early in August," he wrote to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, which is investigating Britain's chaotic departure from Afghanistan. "These emails were desperate and urgent. I was struck by many titles including phrases such as 'please save my children.'"

Marshall said some of those left behind had been killed by the Taliban.

But an Afghan resettlement scheme announced by the government in August with the goal of bringing another 20,000 people to Britain has yet to get underway.

Former Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who was moved from the Foreign Office to become Justice Secretary after the crisis, defended his actions.

"Some of the criticism seems rather dislocated from the facts on the ground, the operational pressures that with the takeover of the Taliban, unexpected around the world," he told the BBC. "I do think that not enough recognition has been given to quite how difficult it was."

Tom Tugendhat, a Conservative lawmaker who heads the foreign affairs committee, said Marshall's testimony "raises serious questions about the leadership of the Foreign Office." The committee is due to quiz senior Foreign Office civil servants later Tuesday.

The Taliban stormed across Afghanistan in late summer, capturing all major cities in a matter of days, as Afghan security forces trained and equipped by the U.S. and its allies melted away. The Taliban took over Kabul on August 15.

Tens of thousands of Afghans attempted to leave by air or land, fearing the country could descend into chaos or that the Taliban would reimpose the harsh interpretation of Islamic law that they relied on when they ran Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001. At the time, women had to wear the all-encompassing burqa and be accompanied by a male relative whenever they went outside. The Taliban banned music, cut off the hands of thieves and stoned adulterers.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Kabal, Afghanistan, Airport
A whistleblower has alleged that Britain’s Foreign Office abandoned many of the nation’s allies in Afghanistan and left them to the mercy of the Taliban during the fall of the capital, Kabul, because of a dysfunctional and arbitrary evacuation effort. Above, hundreds of people gather near a U.S. Air Force C-17 transport plane at a perimeter at the international airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, on August 16, 2021. Shekib Rahmani/AP Photo