During the Afghanistan war, military dogs have been an integral part of the mission. These dogs can detect explosives, find illegal drugs, and look for fallen soldiers as well as enemies. Some serve on the front lines, and others work as therapy dogs to help the brave men and women who worked tirelessly on a mission of peace for the last two decades. According to The Atlantic, these dogs share many of the same jobs and their human counterparts’ inherent risks every day. Aside from the dogs who work tirelessly in battle, there is another group of dogs who need evacuation alongside the brave men and women who are Afghan nationals and those trapped in a country that has fallen back to the Taliban regime after President Joe Biden’s failed and tragic withdrawal from the country.
Establishing a mission
Sergeant Paul “Pen” Farthing has served as a Royal Marine for twenty-two years before starting the Nowzad animal shelter in Afghanistan in 2006. After United States troops left Afghanistan, he worked diligently to get his staff and the animals out of the country. Even after his wife left Afghanistan, Sergeant Farthing chose to stay because he wanted to ensure that his team and the shelter animals were safely out of the country. Sergeant Farthing was part of the Kilo Company, 42 Commando Royal Marines who began a mission in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, providing people with security while their country was falling apart. Alongside the people, the stray animals in the area also began to see some hope. According to Nowzad, it started the night Sergeant Farthing witnessed a dog fight in a remote part of the city.
One of the dogs, forced to fight, attached himself to Sergeant Farthing and provided him much-needed love during his service. He dubbed the dog “Nowzad” after the outpost where his troops resided. Over time the mission grew, and to date, the dogs and cats who provided love and support to 1600 soldiers now reunited with their beloved pets. Not only has the shelter provided hope for stray animals, but it has also helped women in Afghanistan. There are 24 nationals currently on staff, including the first female veterinarian. Besides providing respite for dogs and cats in Afghanistan, Sergeant Farthing also works tirelessly to help other animals in the area. Recently, he opened a donkey sanctuary since many are overworked. He wanted to help some enjoy their latter days after they were no longer helpful as work animals.
Currently, Sergeant Farthing is trying to get his staff and their families and approximately two hundred animals out of Kabul. However, he has run into issues with the United Kingdom’s Defense secretary, who feels that people are the priority and minor to no emphasis on four-leggeds caught in war-torn countries. According to Newsweek, Defense Secretary Ben Wallace denied all accusations that he’d tried to thwart plans. However, he added that he wants priority placed on the people and not the animals. He said, “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 airpline capacity. No one has the right in this humanitarian crisis to jump the queue.” Throughout the ordeal, it was even up in the air whether or not Sergeant Farthering’s staff could leave since they are Afghan nationals. It was a source of contention since many of them are women, the first in the country trained as veterinarians. Despite having a privately funded plane, paid for by donations, there were still many red tapes before his staff got clearance to leave. So, even though the United Kingdom’s government thought priority should be on people, the animals were the first to go.
The Kabul airport remains a chaotic mess. And throughout Sergeant Farthing’s mission, people are being held back from exiting the country with and without the proper paperwork; why “Operation Ark,” getting the Nowzad animals out of Kabul, became so controversial. According to AP News, a former British Army Officer, Tom Tugendhat, said, “what would you say if I sent an ambulance to save my dog rather than your mother?” Nonetheless, the project also had many supporters. Throughout the ordeal, Sergeant Farthing maintained that his task was not taking away from valuable resources. Celebrities like Ricky Gervais even banded behind him, wanting to adopt some of the rescue animals.
Even though Sergeant Farthing wanted to stay in Kabul alongside his staff, he finally left the country with two hundred dogs and cats on a privately funded plane. According to AP News, Farthing and his team made it to the Kabul airport on Thursday, August 26. However, all of his Afghan nationals couldn’t leave, despite having all of the proper paperwork. It took days for them to get everything in order and prepare to leave the country. Since there was so much controversy with evacuating the animals, it looked like it might not even happen. Yet sadly, after lining everything up for not only the staff but also the animals on board. However, everything turned upside down, and only the British Troops who helped the project in Afghanistan were able to board the flight alongside Sergeant Farthing. The animals are in the United Kingdom, currently quarantined, and Sergeant Farthing is working diligently to get his staff safely out of Kabul. However, much like other citizens in the country, it will be a long uphill battle.
Ghandi once said, “the greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” Sergeant Farthing and his troops help the city of Helmand Province Afghastinan, providing hope to its citizens. They helped rescue animals also suffering under the oppressive regime. The work continues with a long way to go. Without others getting involved, their mission can not continue. Visit Nowazad if you want to see ways to donate, purchase books about the incredible story, or adopt an animal in need.