Portugal granted asylum to the Afghan girls’ national football team and their families. On Sunday following weeks, it arrived in Lisbon’s capital, where the Taliban forbade women from performing sports. The Associated Press reported on Tuesday.
A worldwide alliance of former US military and intelligence officers, Senator Chris Coons, US allies, and humanitarian groups planned an Operation Soccer Ball with the Taliban, claimed Nic McKinley, the veteran of CIA and the Air Force.
The girls were apprehensive about Afghanistan’s national football team. They had been traveling around the country for weeks, waiting for the word to depart.
Some want to be a doctor; some want to be filmmakers and some engineers. Every dream of becoming a professional soccer player.
Then the announcement eventually arrived early Sunday: the girls and their families would be taken from Afghanistan on a charter jet to where they did not know. The busses to the airport were already on their way.
“They left their homes and left everything behind,” Farkhunda Muhtaj, the captain of the Afghanistan women’s national team who from her home in Canada had spent the last few weeks communicating with the girls and working to help arrange their rescue, told The Associated Press. “They can’t fathom that they’re out of Afghanistan.”
After the US withdrew from Afghanistan, the girls between the ages of 14 and 16 and their families tried to leave, fearing what their lives might look like under the Taliban—not only because women and girls are prohibited from doing sports, but also because they advocated for girls and their community’s active members. They landed in Lisbon, Portugal, late Sunday.
Muhtaj, football team members, some of their family members, and soccer federations employees talked in interviews with the AP this week about their final days in Afghanistan, the international effort to help them, and the prospect of their new freedom.
The Operation Soccer Balls, which has been called the Rescue Mission, has been coordinated with the Taliban by the international coalition of ex-US military, intelligence, and humanitarian groups, US Senator Chris Coons, US allies, and veteran CIA and Air Force veteran Nic McKinley, who founded Dallas-based DeliverFund. This non-profit organization secures housing for 50 Afghan families.
“This all had to happen very, very quickly. Our contact on the ground told us that we had a window of about three hours,” said McKinley. “Time was very much of the essence.”
Operation Soccer Balls suffered several failures, including many unsuccessful rescue operations and a suicide attack carried out at Kabul Airport with 169 Afghans and 13 members of the US service by the Islamic State militants, rivals of the Taliban. The bombing took place on a terrifying airlift in which the US military recognized that it was in some degree cooperating with the Taliban.
The rescue mission was complicated by its magnitude – 80 persons, including 26 members of the young team and adults, and others, including youngsters.
Some of the girls talked through an interpreter to the AP. They added that they want to play soccer — something that they were instructed not to do while hiding — and they hope to meet football superstar Cristiano Ronaldo, the forward of Manchester United and a native of Portugal.
Wida Zemarai, a female football team goalkeeper and coach for Afghanistan who relocated to Sweden after the Taliban took power in 1996, claimed they were emotional after their salvage.
“They can dream now,” Zemarai said. “They can continue to play.”