A group of congresspeople, former intelligence and military officials and other advocates are trying to safely evacuate the national girls soccer team in Afghanistan, The Associated Press reported on Wednesday.
“Operation Soccer Balls,” which involves multiple countries, is working to see the girls ultimately relocated in the United States.
Last week, many from the women’s team in Afghanistan were safely evacuated to Australia, the AP reported.
However, given that the U.S. does not have a physical presence in Afghanistan any more and five previous attempts to get the girls safely out of the country were unsuccessful, the stakes are even higher to safely remove the adolescents as the country is now under Taliban rule.
Farkhunda Muhtaj, captain of the Afghanistan women's national soccer team and currently a resident of Canada, told the AP that the players and their families could be Taliban targets not only because women and girls are forbidden from playing sports, but also because they were activists in their communities.
“They are devastated. They’re hopeless, considering the situation they’re in,” Muhtaj said.
Added to the concerns are both the scope of the group — some 133 people, including 26 team members — and the fact that a number of those trying to depart do not have documentation to leave the country, according to the AP.
“We need to do everything that we can to protect them, to get them to a safe situation,” Robert McCreary, a former White House official under then-President George W. Bush, told the AP.
Evacuations in Afghanistan have already become extremely difficult. The Biden administration has said that there are between 100 and 200 Americans who are still in the country with “some intention to leave,” as well as at least 100,000 Afghans who are eligible for resettlement.
President BidenJoe BidenMarcus Garvey's descendants call for Biden to pardon civil rights leader posthumously GOP grapples with chaotic Senate primary in Pennsylvania Trump social media startup receives commitment of billion from unidentified 'diverse group' of investors MORE has come under blistering criticism for his handling of the U.S. military withdrawal, and advocates told The Hill on Wednesday that they are struggling help those left behind.
“The reality on the ground is, it's exceedingly fluid. What’s true now may be false in 20 minutes. There’s no guarantee,” said Rabbi Will Berkowitz, CEO of the refugee resettlement organization Jewish Family Services. “They’re all people that served with coalition forces, so they’re both targeted — but also our country promised to evacuate them to safety, and we haven’t upheld our promise, and so to me, the blood is on our hands.”