Afghan girl from iconic National Geographic cover evacuated to Italy

An Afghan woman who became internationally famous after being featured on the cover of a 1984 issue of National Geographic has been evacuated to Italy, the office of the country's prime minister announced on Thursday.

Sharbat Gulla, the woman behind the iconic photo taken by photographer Steve McCurry, arrived in Italy following a push “by those in civil society, and in particular by non-profit organizations working in Afghanistan” to evacuate her from the country, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s office said in a statement, The Associated Press reported.

Gulla sought help to leave Afghanistan as the nation now contends with Taliban rule following the collapse of its former government. 

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Draghi’s office said in their statement that Gulla’s evacuation was “part of the wider evacuation program in place for Afghan citizens and the government’s plan for their reception and integration” in Italy, according to the AP.

Gulla was 12 years old and living in a refugee camp when McCurry took her photograph. The photo, showing her staring at the camera with piercing green eyes, became one of the most famous National Geographic covers of all time.

The AP’s reporting only detailed a small number of times where it appeared that Gulla’s whereabouts were known. The news outlet reported that in 2002, McCurry saw the Afghan woman again. Over a decade later, she was deported from Pakistan after Pakistan’s government alleged she was trying to obtain false identification within the country. 

The evacuation of Gulla, who joins other Afghans who have fled the country in recent months, indicates the chaotic and lasting impact of a country whose fate dramatically changed amid U.S. troop removal and Taliban resurgence in Afghanistan. 

Major cities and provincial capitals were rapidly taken by the Taliban as the U.S. withdrew its troops from the area in August.

Countries are cautious to avoid officially recognizing the Taliban as the leader of Afghanistan, and some officials are concerned that the achievements gained over the last 20 years, particularly for women’s rights, will be erased again.