The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Emails appear to show Boris Johnson authorized evacuation of pets from Afghanistan, despite repeated denials

The emails were released as part of an investigation by a parliamentary committee of the British government’s handling of its August withdrawal from Afghanistan

Afghans packed inside a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III are transported from Kabul's Hamid Karzai International Airport on Aug. 15. (Capt. Chris Herbert/AP)

Emails released Wednesday by Britain’s Foreign Office appear to show that Prime Minister Boris Johnson did sign off on a controversial evacuation of dogs and cats from Afghanistan in August, contradicting his dismissal as “complete nonsense” of claims that he intervened to rescue animals over the thousands of Afghans desperate to flee the Taliban takeover.

A Royal Marine rescued animals from Afghanistan in a mission dubbed ‘Operation Ark.’ His staff was left behind.

Johnson — who is embroiled in a scandal over allegations that he attended parties during the coronavirus pandemic, in violation of his government’s own lockdown rules — has denied authorizing the airlift in late August of 200 dogs and cats from Nowzad, a shelter in Afghanistan run by a former British Royal Marine.

But accusations that Johnson did have a role in authorizing the flight have continued to follow him. In December, a senior British opposition lawmaker released a letter sent by a top Johnson aide in late August confirming authorization for the animal evacuation.

Leaked letter suggests Boris Johnson backed dog and cat airlift from Kabul as Afghans sought refuge

In the latest correspondence to surface, an unnamed Foreign Office official wrote in an email dated Aug. 25 that the staff of another animal charity — whose identity was redacted — should be considered for evacuation, as “the PM has just authorised their [Nowzad] staff and animals to be evacuated.”

A second Foreign Office email that day made a similar request, writing that given “the Prime Minister’s Nowzad decision, the Foreign Secretary might consider the [details redacted] vets and their dependents should be included.”

The emails were released as part of an investigation by a British parliamentary committee of the government’s handling of its Afghanistan withdrawal. The correspondence was provided by Raphael Marshall, a former Foreign Office official turned whistleblower, who has criticized the August evacuation as “arbitrary and dysfunctional.”

British whistleblower details ‘chaotic’ and ‘dysfunctional’ Afghanistan evacuation that ignored pleas of thousands

In late August, as the U.S. deadline for withdrawal neared, Paul “Pen” Farthing, Nowzad’s operator, launched a high-profile social media campaign for the evacuation of his charity’s staff and animals. At the time, tens of thousands of Afghans were amassing daily around Kabul’s international airport in a desperate search for flights out of the country.

British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace criticized Farthing’s campaign, saying it had “taken up too much time of my senior commanders” as humanitarian crises surged in Afghanistan. But Farthing and his supporters continued to lobby Johnson and his close associates.

Farthing eventually received clearance, and on Aug. 29 a private jet landed in London carrying him and his animals. The charity’s Afghan staff later found a way to flee the Taliban.