With all the chaos following the US and Western withdrawal from Afghanistan, it’s not really surprising that animal charities weren’t foremost in the minds of the military and political planners. However, one rescue organisation wasn’t going to let their staff or their charges get left behind…
Established in Kabul, Nowzad’s purpose-built animal shelter and veterinary clinic offered support, veterinary care and rehoming for cats and dogs. It also provided a wider network supporting working donkeys and their owners. But since the fall of the Afghan government, this is all very much in doubt.
Operation Ark: Rescue the Rescuers
Nowzad founder, former Royal Marine Sergeant ‘Pen’ Farthing, has been appealing for help in rescuing his staff of over 50. He also wasn’t going to let their charges get left behind in the chaos. As a result, he has been campaigning for Operation Ark, to hire an aircraft and arrange for the evacuation.
The latest news is fantastic – generous people across the world have donated enough in the last week to pay for the charter of an aircraft. And, just this morning, Pen was able to announce that the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has backed the project, and that visas are being fast-tracked.
There are still some obstacles – notably a flight authorisation, although I’ve heard that this too is being fast-tracked. However, it now seems likely that rescuers and animals will be rescued before the deadline of 1st September.
However, that may still leave a lot of people on the ground, unable to get away, especially as the US government is adamant that they will be abandoning the airport and closing down all direct air access at the end of August. The UK government is reportedly trying to persuade them to extend the deadline; however, the prospects of success seem slim right now.
What they leave behind
Of course, Nowzad isn’t the only animal charity in Afghanistan. There are others, often run with Western backing, and there are fears that they may be targeted.
Update – 25th August
Although all the staff have visas, there has been a problem with getting the aircraft into the airport. With many hundreds of flights coming and going, slots are very limited and yesterday the U.K. government said that they wouldn’t fast-track a cargo plane to evacuate the animals while there are people waiting for passenger planes.
And just this morning, the news is that US President Biden has refused to extend the deadline.
However, this is a fast moving situation, and there are now reports that if staff and animals can get to the Kabul airport terminal, the plane will be given a landing slot. It seems that the U.K. government and military are optimistic they will have evacuated most of their nationals within the next 24-36 hours, leaving more scope for special flights than was anticipated yesterday.
What’s the answer? I really don’t know. But in the chaos as one regime ends and it’s replacement is not yet established, I doubt that animal welfare will be at the top of the incoming Taliban government’s to do list.