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A former Royal Marine has warned that 173 cats and dogs may die after the Taliban blocked a British convoy from entering Kabul Airport, saying he is concerned that the animals will overheat if the stand-off doesn't come to an end.
The Taliban has put an exit deadline of 31 August for all foreign evacuations, meaning many people still in Afghanistan are running out of time.
Paul 'Pen' Farthing, 57, has appealed directly to the Taliban's Doha spokesperson after his attempt to get 94 dogs and 79 cats out of the country was blocked.
Farthing, who founded animal rescue charity Nowzad in 2007, has been desperately trying to get the animals under what's been dubbed 'Operation Ark'.
Along with his staff and their families, he left for the airport around midnight in the hope that the night would bring cooler temperatures for the animals.
The first hurdle came when they were stopped at a Taliban checkpoint, with Farthing telling The Sun: "About 15 guys jumped out and levelled their guns at us.
"Then one of them had an ND [a negligent discharge]. Luckily he was a s*** shot and it went over our heads.
"I very rarely hear Afghans swear in English but I heard a few words then."
They were held there for an hour before they were finally let free to drive across Kabul to the airport.
However, despite making it there at 2am local time, eight hours later the group had still not been let through, leaving Farthing fearful that they only have 'hours' before 'animals start dying'.
After parking the trucks in the shade, staff lifted tarpaulins to get air into the animals, and have also been spraying the crates with water.
Farthing continued: "There are some in the middle we can't reach and we can't start unloading them because it will attract too much attention room.
"It is getting really desperate.
"We are appealing directly to the Taliban to let us through.
"We have permission to leave.
"We are in touch with the British forces but they say they are powerless to help."
He has also publicly appealed to the Taliban on Twitter, addressing Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen directly.
Farthing wrote: "Dear Sir; my team and 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.
"We have been here for 10 hours after being assured that we would have safe passage. Truly would like to go home now.
"Let's prove the IEA are taking a different path."
We have been here for 10 hours after being assured that we would have safe passage. Truly would like to go home now. :pray: Let's prove the IEA are taking a different path.
- Pen Farthing (@PenFarthing) August 26, 2021
On Monday, Farthing said the UK Government had granted visas for all his staff and their dependants - totalling 68 people - but that the evacuation of the shelter's animals has remained a sticking point.
Yesterday, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said that if Farthing arrived at the airport with his staff and animals, officials would seek to facilitate their departure from Afghanistan aboard a chartered plane.
Wallace tweeted: "Now that Pen Farthing's staff have been cleared to come forward under LOTR [immigration rules] 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. 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.
"No one has the right in this humanitarian crisis to jump the queue."
Responding to concerns that animals were being put before humans, Farthing tweeted: "The cargo hold is empty - we put the dogs and cats in there!! And 250 people above in the cabin!"
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