A FORMER Royal Marine has been given a glimmer of hope that his dogs and cats can be saved from Afghanistan on his charter mercy flight.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said officials would seek a runway slot for the plane chartered by Pen Farthing, 52, to evacuate him, his staff and their animals if they come to Kabul Airport.
Nowzad — the charity founded by Pen in 2007 — has raised hundreds of thousands of pounds to lay on the private plane in a mission named Operation Ark.
If former Colour Sergeant Pen arrives at the airport without the animals he and his staff from the Nowzad shelter will be airlifted out on an RAF flight, Mr Wallace said.
Pen has been campaigning to fly out 94 dogs, 79 cats plus himself and 68 Afghan refugees from the charity’s animal shelter in Taliban-controlled Kabul.
It was revealed yesterday the UK government had granted visas for Pen's 68 rescue animal workers and their dependants.
MERCY FLIGHT HOPE
But Pen's bid to bring the animals home was branded "bollocks" by Mr Wallace yesterday.
It comes as the UK faces a 48-hour dash to save thousands of desperate Brits and Afghans from Kabul after Joe Biden refused to extend the mercy mission.
Pen accused Mr Wallace of "signing these dogs’ death warrants — and likewise the people".
Overnight, the Defence Secretary confirmed that Pen's staff had been granted leave outside immigration rules to fly to the UK.
Mr Wallace tweeted: "I have authorised MOD to facilitate their processing alongside all other eligible personnel at HKIA [Kabul Airport].
"At that stage, if he arrives with his animals we will seek a slot for his plane.
"If he does not have his animals with him he and his staff can board an RAF flight.
Now that Pen Farthing’s staff have been cleared to come forward under LOTR I have authorised MOD to facilitate their processing alongside all other eligible personnel
"I have been consistent all along, ensuring those most at risk are processed first and that the limiting factor has been flow THROUGH to airside NOT airplane capacity."
He added: "No one has the right in this humanitarian crisis to jump the queue".
Mr Wallace had insisted the animals would have to wait behind as the UK prioritises the evacuation of people on RAF flights out of Kabul.
Nowzad supporters had privately chartered an Airbus A330 that was on standby to fly to Kabul to rescue the group's workers and animals.
Comedian Ricky Gervais supports the project and tweeted in a foul-mouthed post: “Dear stupid c***s saying we shouldn’t put animals before people . . .
“The animals go in the hold where people can’t go. This is an extra, privately funded plane that will allow more people to be saved."
Mr Wallace insisted the main problem with evacuations in Kabul has been getting people safely into and through the airport.
He had earlier said the chartered plane would merely "block the airfield" and "sit there empty" as the processing of the thousands of people trying to leave Kabul would be prioritised over the airlifting of animals.
All the dogs and cats from Nowzad’s three sites have been relocated to the charity’s headquarters.
They include a dozen British embassy cats — such as Mr Grey, Chopsy, Sweep, and Scar — which were dumped by our diplomats.
Mr Farthing has previously said the animals would be transported in the aircraft's hold.
Once his staff were accommodated any spare seats on the plane could be filled by other people cleared for passage by UK authorities, with the flight able to take 250 passengers in total.
"The cargo hold is empty – we put the dogs and cats in there!! And 250 people above in the cabin!" Mr Farthing tweeted.
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