The wife of animal charity founder and former Marine Pen Farthing spoke last night of her joy that her husband and his four-legged friends appeared to be on their way home.
Kaisa Markhus, who fled Afghanistan last week for her native Norway, was having dinner with her father in Oslo when Pen called her from Kabul airport. “You should have seen the smile on my face,” she said.
After Thursday’s massacre, Kaisa knew her husband planned to make another attempt to reach the airport, but had no idea when or if he would reach Kabul safely. Speaking exclusively to the Daily Mail about Pen’s dramatic evacuation, she said: ‘He’s at the airport now and we had a quick video call. The moment I saw him safely inside… you can imagine.’
Her husband and his animals fleeing Kabul has been the dream she has been clinging to since she was flown out of the city on a nearly empty flight. She learned last night that after clearing Taliban checkpoints, Pen was finally allowed to board a flight carrying 200 rescue cats and dogs from his charity Nowzad, but was forced to leave his staff behind.
“I know Pen had a very difficult choice. He faced the same choice when he was at the airport with his staff and their families on Thursday and the animals and staff were not allowed through,” says Kaisa.
The wife of animal charity founder and former Marine Pen Farthing (pictured together) last night spoke of her joy that her husband and his four-legged friends appeared to be on their way home
She learned last night that after passing through Taliban checkpoints, Pen was finally allowed to board a flight of 200 rescue cats and dogs from his charity Nowzad.
“So he went back to the compound to make sure everyone was safe and to discuss with them what to do. They decided that he had to go back to the airport with the dogs. He was devastated to leave his staff, but knew that removing both the dogs and himself would eliminate two major risk factors.”
The founder of the Nowzad animal shelter in Kabul, Paul Farthing – known as Pen – had tried to arrange a freedom flight in an operation dubbed ‘Operation Ark’.
British soldiers last night helped load the animals onto a privately chartered plane as they prepared for their return to the UK. The Ministry of Defense confirmed that the group was “assisted by the British armed forces through the system at Kabul airport.”
Last night, his supporter and animal rights activist Dominic Dyer told the Mail: ‘Pen is fine, but he’s very stressed. He has no choice but to leave and take the animals with him. We look forward to getting them to the UK.
“We are very pleased to have got him out and are very grateful to the British Government for their help and for the support of the armed forces.”
Understandably, Kaisa is wary of counting her chickens. “I won’t celebrate until he lands,” she says. ‘We are still working on solutions to evacuate the personnel.
Kaisa Markhus, who fled Afghanistan last week for her native Norway, was having dinner with her father in Oslo when Pen called her from Kabul airport.
‘The plane is going to’ [the Uzbekistan capital] Tashkent, but they do not know when. He didn’t arrive outside the airport until late afternoon. It was quieter there because of Thursday’s bombings.’
When we spoke yesterday afternoon – before the news of her husband’s evacuation – she was sitting at her mother’s dinner table in a tank top borrowed from her sister and a pair of freshly bought jeans. She fled Kabul with nothing but a toothbrush and some deodorant. Even the book she was reading was left on the table next to the double bed she shared with Pen until ten days ago.
That they will soon be able to hold each other again – and plan their married life together – is enough to bring her to tears.
“I cried when I left Kabul,” she says. ‘I was one of the lucky ones. When I was in the Norwegian camp at the airport, there were three children – babies – that I was playing with who had been separated from their parents. We had to leave them behind.
“I thought, ‘I won’t see Kabul again. Maybe I don’t see Pen anymore.” I cried for those babies. What the hell is this crisis about leaving behind little kids who have no one?’
She showed me a short video on her phone of the children playing at the airport. The soldiers and evacuees worried about the poor souls. ‘Two days later I heard that Norway had decided to take them’ [the babies] here. I told Pen on the phone that the babies were now in Norway. His first reaction was “tell us we want to adopt one”. I want children with Pen.’
The former Royal Marines, who founded the Nowzad animal shelter in Kabul, have been embroiled in a desperate attempt in recent days to board an RAF evacuation flight
The hope in her voice couldn’t be further from the distraught woman I spoke to earlier this week. On Thursday, she feared the worst when, after being advised by the British government to go to Kabul airport to board a charter plane to safety, Pen, along with his 25 employees, their immediate families and 150 cats and dogs were taken into custody. crates, was turned away at the last minute. “I feared for his life,” Kaisa said. ‘I had a heavy feeling. When he was outside the airport, I was scared because I hadn’t heard from him.’
His group was entangled in the infernal scenes on Thursday as Isis-K bombs killed at least 170 people, including 13 U.S. servicemen. Pen and his staff were shelled with tear gas and fired upon as they fled for their lives.
“When they got out, he called me and said, “Oh, Kaisa Jan [an Afghan endearment meaning ‘dear’]All hell just broke loose. I’ve had an AK pistol in my chest twice now.”’
MoD sources made it clear last night that Mr Farthing and his convoy were not being given preferential treatment and were not aboard a military flight. While Farthing’s supporters said he was rejected by the Taliban on Thursday, sources said he may have gone to the wrong gate.
Mr Farthing’s group also narrowly avoided the airport suicide bombings that rocked the area earlier this week, killing 12 US servicemen and up to 90 Afghans. Above: Afghans wounded in hospital after blast
Two boys hug as they cry in the parking lot of Wazir Akbar Khan Hospital, in Kabul, after the blast
Defense Secretary Ben Wallace initially rejected Operation Ark, saying it would put “people for pets” in the rush to flee Kabul.
He later agreed to “find a place” for the plane carrying out the mercy mission, but insisted the convoy wouldn’t be able to jump in line. There were suggestions from Mr Farthing’s supporters that his change of tone was prompted by an intervention by Boris Johnson’s animal-loving wife Carrie – but this was denied by Downing Street sources.
When asked whether Mr Farthing had been a diversionary to the overall evacuation mission, Mr Wallace told LBC yesterday: “I think it has taken too much time from my senior commanders dealing with this matter when they should focus on dealing with the humanitarian crisis. ‘
But he added: ‘I hope he comes back, he was advised to come back, his wife came back last Friday, so I hope he does too.’
The only grief for Kaisa now is that Pen is forced to leave his beloved staff behind. “When the Taliban took over Kabul, I thought ‘if you have to put all the animals to sleep, then do it’. There will be other dogs, but you can’t do anything when you’re dead,” she says.
“But then I realized something. Pen has a mother, a brother and me. We are his three relatives. Many of his employees did not visit their families during the lockdown, but stayed to help him. When there was a major kidnapping threat here a few years ago, they didn’t want to go home. They stayed in the office to protect him. They are his family.’