Emails released Wednesday by the UK Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Select Committee, which is investigating the hurried British evacuation from Kabul, Afghanistan in August 2021, suggest Prime Minister Boris Johnson did authorize the evacuation of staff and animals. He has previously denied involvement in the matter.
In one communication dating from August 2021, a UK Foreign Office official discussing an evacuation request from an animal charity wrote that Johnson had approved the evacuation of an “equivalent charity” called Nowzad.
Referring to Nowzad, the official said that “the PM has just authorized their staff and animals to be evacuated.”
Last year, whistleblower Raphael Marshall, a desk officer at the Foreign Office, had claimed the department “received an instruction from the prime minister" to use "considerable capacity" to help evacuate animals cared for by the Nowzad charity, run by Briton Paul Farthing.
“There was a direct trade-off between transporting Nowzad's animals and evacuating British nationals and Afghan evacuees, including Afghans who had served with British soldiers,” Marshall claimed at the time.
As the Taliban approached Kabul, Farthing appealed to the UK government for help in evacuating his staff and the animals under their care. Ultimately, the charity chartered its own plane and was given flight clearance by the British government to leave Afghanistan. However, while some 170 dogs and cats were on board, local staff had to stay behind.
The charity’s eventual evacuation drew controversy amid suggestions that people who had worked for the British government in Afghanistan and were at risk of Taliban reprisal had been unable to get out of the country. Farthing has repeatedly denied any suggestions that the UK government prioritized his animals over humans or diverted crucial limited resources to evacuate cats and dogs.
In December, Johnson dismissed the suggestion that he had personally intervened to help animal charities ahead of the Taliban takeover of the Afghan capital, calling the reports “complete nonsense.”
Following the publication of the emails on Wednesday, Downing Street reiterated Johnson’s previous denials, with a spokesperson saying: “It remains the case that the PM didn't instruct officials to take any particular course of action.” They added that "the PM had no role in authorizing individual evacuations from Afghanistan, including Nowzad staff and animals."