A former Royal Marine has spoken of his tears and guilt after finally getting out of Afghanistan with 150 dogs and cats but leaving his charity's staff and their families behind.
Paul "Pen" Farthing, 52, founder of Nowzad, a dog welfare charity in Kabul, arrived at London's Heathrow airport on Sunday morning with the animals, in an evacuation he dubbed Operation Ark.
However, Farthing, an ex-Marine commando who served in Afghanistan, said 68 Nowzad animal shelter staff and family members, including 25 children and one new-born baby, remained in the country.
Speaking from Oslo, after leaving the UK for Norway to be reunited with his wife hKaisa, who fled from Kabul two weeks ago, Farthing recalled his emotions as his privately-chartered plane took off from Kabul on Saturday evening.
“There was no joy, just guilt,” he told the Daily Mail.
Watch: Pen Farthing apologises for 'colourful language'
“Guilt I couldn't get [my staff] out. Guilt that for whatever reason I couldn't persuade the powers-that-be to give me that paperwork a few days earlier. Guilt because I left them behind.
“When I first came back to Afghanistan, I came because of my love of dogs but, in the years I spent there, it's the people I grew to love.
“I think I've cried more in the last five or six days than I have since I was four years old. I'm just numb with it. I think it'll take a long time to ever get out of my head having to say goodbye to the two members of staff who drove the truck for me to get me into the airport along roads just lined with people.”
Farthing said five cats died on the journey to the UK, while one of the dogs was stabbed, he believes, as they drove through Taliban checkpoints to Kabul airport.
His departure from Afghanistan brought an end to an often bitter battle with UK officials, with Farthing claiming last week that the Ministry of Defence had blocked his bid to fly out with his animals and staff.
He and his animals were cleared for evacuation by defence secretary Ben Wallace, who later went on to attack what he called the "total myths" about the case, denying that the MoD had blocked his flight out.
The former Royal Marine has also apologised for an expletive-laden message he left for a government aide while trying to secure his animals’ evacuation.
A recording, obtained by The Times, captured him berating Peter Quentin, a special adviser to the defence secretary, and accusing the staffer of “blocking” efforts to arrange the evacuation flight.
Farthing told ITV’s Good Morning Britain on Monday he was “incredibly embarrassed about my language” in the voicemail.
Wallace complained that Farthing’s campaign distracted from the focus on evacuating the most vulnerable out of Afghanistan, saying he would not prioritise “pets over people” in the evacuation process.
He also said some of Farthing’s more militant supporters had “taken up too much time” of senior commanders.
Farthing said: “I’m incredibly embarrassed about my language, I do apologise to everybody who’s listened to that.
“I was at the lowest point I could possibly be.
“I understand how the world works but emotions got the better of me, so for all those who had to listen to that I do apologise for my language.
“I should not have said it like that, but the sentiment, yes, I was just incredibly upset, angry, frustrated, it was the lowest point.”
Estimates of how many foreign nationals remain in Afghanistan remain unclear.
Foreign secretary Dominic Raab has said the number of UK nationals left behind is in the “low hundreds” after the western military presence came to an end in the country.
He said on Tuesday he was unable to give a “definitive” figure on how many Afghans the UK had failed to airlift to safety after the Taliban seized power.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon has admitted that as many as 250 Americans who wanted to leave Kabul remain stranded there after the US flew its final evacuation and ended its 20-year military presence.
Watch: Minister defends Foreign Office response on Pen Farthing