Leaving staff behind in Kabul, Afghanistan, was 'totally heartbreaking', Pen Farthing says

Leaving his Afghan staff behind was 'one of the hardest decisions I've had to make in my life', Pen Farthing told ITV Good Morning Britain

An animal shelter boss who fled Kabul with more than 150 rescued dogs and cats said it was "totally heartbreaking" to leave behind his Afghan staff, but he is still trying to get them out of the country.

Paul “Pen” Farthing arrived at Heathrow Airport in a privately funded chartered flight on Sunday morning, after a high-profile campaign to get animals from his shelter Nowzad out of Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.

About 68 Afghan staff and their families, including 25 children and one new-born baby, remain in the country.

Mr Farthing told ITV Good Morning Britain: "It was very mixed emotions, to be honest. Getting animals out was part of the mission but it wasn't the whole mission."

Explaining why he returned without the staff, he said due to a change of rules, his staff did not have the correct paperwork even though they had papers permitting them to come to Britain.

Pen Farthing Credit: PA

He said he and his team were turned around at gunpoint by the Taliban and forced back out into the streets where they were tear-gassed in the aftermath of Thursday's bombing.

He described what happened after they got back to their base: "Everybody was just crying and sad and in shock.

"And that's when the staff come up to me and they were saying: Look, you've got to get these animals out of here, we'll try another way.

"And that's when the realisation came in that if I stayed any longer now, I'm just going to put them in more danger by being there.

"It's one of the hardest decisions I've had to make in my life but I realised there's no way I could get them into the airport now."

He added: "It was absolutely heartbreaking, totally heartbreaking."

He clarified the Taliban would only let him through because he was an "obvious westerner" and they were even turning away Afghan people with British passports.

Clarifying the "several" empty seats on this flight, he said he offered to take in more people on the plane, but his offer was turned down by the British army.

And he rubbished MP Tom Tugendhat's claim that troops were used to facilitate him and the animals into the airport, saying "no troops" had helped him into the airfield.

On Monday, Mr Farthing also said he looks forward "to working closely with (the government) over the coming weeks whilst we complete our mission, getting those 68 people out of Afghanistan and back to safety.

“Whilst those vulnerable staff, mostly young women, remain in danger in Afghanistan, we shall not rest.

“In the same way that the MoD needs to be left alone to get on with the important work of evacuating staff and troops out of Afghanistan, likewise we need to focus on the second and most important part of Op Ark, getting those vulnerable vets and vet nurses and their children out of Kabul, rather than having to deal with ill-informed comments from MPs, the press and armchair pundits.”

The ex-Marine also apologised for his expletive-laden message berating Peter Quentin, a special adviser to the defence secretary Ben Wallace.

Pen Farthing said he is 'embarrassed' of his expletive-laden message to Peter Quentin

He accused Mr Quentin of “blocking” the evacuation and threatened to “spend the rest of my time … destroying you on social media.”

Mr Farthing told ITV’s Good Morning Britain on Monday: “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.”

While Mr Farthing's Operation Ark campaign to get animal shelter workers and animals out of Afghanistan has had many supporters, it was also criticised for draining time and energy from the task of rescuing Afghans.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said some of Mr Farthing’s supporters had “taken up too much time” of senior commanders and said the military had to prioritise people over pets.

The UK's evacuation mission ended late on Saturday as the last troops left Kabul airport.

The UK has said it evacuated more than 15,000 people over two weeks, but say as many as 1,100 Afghans who were entitled to come to the UK have been left behind.