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Afghan female footballers flee Taliban-ruled Kabul, granted asylum in Portugal

Afghanistan's girls' national football team players and their family members (Images courtesy: Twitter/@saberperzad)

Staring at an uncertain future after the Taliban takeover, as many 26 players from Afghanistan's girls' national football team and their 54 family members managed to fly out of Kabul on Sunday and have now been granted asylum in Portugal.  

"They left their homes and left everything behind. They can't fathom that they're out of Afghanistan,"  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.

According to the news agency, the rescue mission, called Operation Soccer Balls, was coordinated with the Taliban through an international coalition of former US military and intelligence officials, US Senator Chris Coons, US allies, and humanitarian groups like Dallas-based DeliverFund founded by Nic McKinley, a CIA and Air Force veteran.

The players, aged 14-16, had been trying to leave Afghanistan ever since the US withdrawal and had feared for their lives under the Taliban rule "not only because girls are forbidden to play sports, but also because they were advocates for girls and active community members".

The 80-member group also included several adults and infants.

Afghanistan women

"The world came together to help these girls and their families. These girls are truly a symbol of light for the world and humanity," Robert McCreary, a former congressional chief of staff and White House official under President George Bush who helped lead the effort to rescue the national girls soccer team, told AP.

The players and their families could not be happier as they landed in Lisbon and now begin a new life in a new country.

"So humbled to share that we have successfully evacuated 80 members of the Afghanistan Youth Women’s National Team along with their family members to Cristiano Ronaldo's nation of Portugal," tweeted Muhtaj, earlier today.  

Also Read: Return of Taliban deals a body blow to Afghanistan cricket and women's football team