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MarketWatch: ‘I have never said my dogs were a priority before people’ — Former Royal Marine Pen Farthing on rescuing 170 pets but leaving his staff behind in Kabul

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Former Royal Marine Paul “Pen” Farthing had been campaigning for weeks to evacuate his staff and animals from his animal shelter in Afghanistan through what was dubbed Operation Ark. 

Farthing said multiple times previously that he would not leave Kabul without his staff. But when he landed in the United Kingdom over the weekend with 170 cats and dogs, his staff was not with him.

The former Royal Marine has gone viral for his controversial rescue effort, and received quite a bit of negative attention for seeming to “prioritize pets over people,” as British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace put it.

Farthing has said multiple times that he never said his animals were a priority over evacuating people from the increasingly dangerous situation in Afghanistan.

“‘All this s–t about putting animals before people — I have never said my dogs were a priority before people. I have never said I’m a priority,” he told the Daily Mail.

Farthing’s animal shelter, Nowzad, raised donations to charter a private plane in order to evacuate the animals, shelter staff and their families from Kabul, he said.

The plane had a capacity for 250 people. Farthing only needed to evacuate 69 people, including himself, and said they would use the rest of the plane’s human capacity to evacuate others who were cleared to leave. 

“Obviously the cargo hold is empty. So underneath in that cargo hold, you can’t put people,” Farthing told Sky News. “So we’re going to put our dogs and cats in there.”

Farthing said that his staff had been approved to leave the country, but when the entire operation — pets, staff and their families — managed to reach the Kabul airport, they were turned away due to last-minute changes in paperwork rules made by the U.S.

“It was the staff who made the decision for me to make a second attempt on my own,” Farthing told the Daily Mail. “They said, ‘Don’t stay. You’ve got to take the dogs out. The Taliban will just shoot them.’” So a few days later he went to the airport with just the pets and they got out.

When Farthing finally managed to evacuate with the 170 animals, he said that he felt “no joy, just guilt” over leaving his staff behind. He has since confirmed that he is still working to evacuate the shelter staff and their families.

Another campaign to evacuate dogs from Afghanistan also picked up steam on Twitter on Tuesday. The hashtag #NoPawsLeftBehind was trending, garnering more than 32,800 tweets in just three hours. Users posted photos of their animals to show solidarity with U.S. military service dogs left behind in Kabul.

The U.S. officially completed its withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan late Monday, after a botched weeks-long exit that ended up costing the lives of more than 180 Afghans and 13 U.S. service members.

Read more: Why Americans will be paying for the cost of the war in Afghanistan for decades

But U.S. citizens remain in the country. Gen. Frank McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, said a number of American citizens, likely in “the very low hundreds,” were left behind.

“We did not get everybody out that we wanted to get out,” he said. But he believes they will still be able to leave the country. 

Untold numbers of Afghans who worked with the U.S. and other Western powers during the 20 year war also remain in Afghanistan as the Taliban takes full control of the country.

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