Damning evidence shows that Farthing's dogs cost human lives
The damning evidence of Raphael Marshall, the Foreign Office whistleblower, on the evacuation of Afghanistan confirms what many of us suspected at the time: that the decision to prioritise ‘Pen’ Farthing and his menagerie came at a direct cost in human life.
Yes, the charity was able to crowdfund its own plane. But as Marshall reiterates, there was no shortage of planes.
Kabul was a throughput problem. There were limited British troops available to escort people safely through the airport and process their paperwork, and limited time before the Americans pulled the rug from under the allied presence in the city. Every move had an opportunity cost.
This was obvious enough at the time. The Government eventually ended up singing from the “no trade-offs” hymn sheet, but the Ministry of Defence started out singing a very different tune before being brought into line.
No wonder Downing Street felt the need to lean on them: apparently the order to give Farthing (who ended up leaving his human staff behind in Afghanistan) special treatment came from the Prime Minister himself.
Sad to say it, but there is little doubt that this intervention was popular in the moment. Animals in distress is a message that hits the British electorate at a deep, sub-rational level, and elements of the media were at their mawkish worst.
But there is a danger to this sort of pandering. Fairly or not, neither the papers nor the voters are obliged to remember that they staunchly approved of something if they come to disapprove of it later. Just ask Tony Blair where the majority of the public that polled in favour of invading Iraq disappeared to.
Assuming the ‘no trade-offs’ bit wasn’t true — and of course it wasn’t — then at some point we were going to be able to start getting a clearer picture of what those trade-offs were; putting a number and, even more dangerously, names and faces on those left behind to face the Taliban.
Marshall’s evidence makes harrowing reading. It really brings home the extraordinarily difficult conditions under which British forces on the ground were operating, and the very real danger facing interpreters, embassy guards, and other Afghans who had cooperated with the occupation.
‘Pen’ himself doesn’t appear to have worried about trade-offs. As recently as Sunday, he could be found in the Observer saying that “animals in a cargo hold never got in the way of people getting on a flight. We had an aircraft with 200 empty seats on it — but that wasn’t my choice.”
The more you read, the more absurd the Nowzad decision becomes. Not only was rescuing domestic animals not a UK war aim, but it doesn’t seem as if they were in any danger anyway; a US-run animal charity is apparently not only still operating, but has been able to recruit Taliban personnel!
If this evidence bears out, Boris Johnson has taken a profoundly unserious decision with truly serious consequences. Not only will British allies have died, but potential partners in future conflict zones will have seen that London cannot be relied upon to look after them if the worst happens.
At least we got Geronimo.