Dominic Raab insisted the Government did not prioritise evacuating dogs over people in the chaos as Afghanistan fell after a whistleblower claimed limited airlift capacity was used to transport animals.
Former Foreign Office official Raphael Marshall told MPs that soldiers were put at risk to facilitate the evacuation of animals from the Nowzad shelter following a request from Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
Former Royal Marine Paul “Pen” Farthing ran the Nowzad animal charity’s shelter and launched a high-profile campaign to get his staff and animals out, using a plane funded through donations.
Mr Farthing said “not one single British soldier” was used to get him or Nowzad’s animals out of Afghanistan, and accused Mr Marshall of lying.
Deputy Prime Minister Mr Raab, who was foreign secretary at the time of Afghanistan’s chaotic fall to the Taliban, insisted it was inaccurate to say the evacuation of animals was prioritised over people.
“That’s just not accurate,” he told Sky News. “We did not put the welfare of animals above individuals.”
Asked if Mr Marshall’s claims were therefore a lie, Mr Raab said: “I am not accusing anyone of lying. I am just correcting the facts.”
In his evidence to the Foreign Affairs Committee, Mr Marshall said there was “an instruction from the Prime Minister to use considerable capacity to transport Nowzad’s animals”.
Mr Marshall, who worked on the Foreign Office’s crisis response team during the evacuation from Kabul, said there were “no justification for concluding that Nowzad’s staff were at significant risk” from the Taliban and “the protection of domestic animals was not a UK war aim in Afghanistan”.
In a sign of the limited ability to get people out of the country, Mr Marshall said “thousands of Afghan friends of the UK at risk of murder” were removed from the evacuation lists.
“On Wednesday August 25, many people referred by Secretaries of State were rejected due to limited capacity. This capacity was subsequently used to transport animals.
“There was a direct trade-off between transporting Nowzad’s animals and evacuating British nationals and Afghans evacuees, including Afghans who had served with British soldiers.
“This is because soldiers tasked with escorting the dogs through the crowd and into the airport would by definition have otherwise been deployed to support the evacuation of British nationals or Afghans prioritised for evacuation, notably by helping families out of the dangerous crowd into the airport.”
He added: “I believe that British soldiers were put at risk in order to bring Nowzad’s animals into the airport.”
Mr Marshall said it was “not relevant” that Nowzad paid for the plane out of Afghanistan.
“The problem was not the lack of planes. The problem was lack of soldiers and lack of capacity at the airport.”