How a 'ragtag group' helped evacuate the Afghanistan national women's football team from the country

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Time was of the essence following the rapid and chilling Taliban takeover of their country.
(CNN)

They burned their football team uniforms, deleted their social media accounts and went into hiding. They "narrowly avoided gunfire, were trampled" and "beaten by the Taliban." Then, as Haley Carter describes on Twitter, they had to wade through sewer water in search of salvation.

Eventually, however, 86 Afghan athletes, officials and family members were airlifted to safety. Their successful evacuation was the result of an internationally coordinated effort involving six countries, but even those who'd scrambled to get them out had to concede that it was still "nothing short of a miracle."

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Speaking with CNN Sport from her home in Houston, Texas, Carter described the overwhelming relief that the operation had succeeded, "I can't believe that a ragtag group of six women, some human rights lawyers, football coaches and a program director managed to use our networks and our resources to get these women out," she said.

But what those women had experienced was almost unspeakable, and the people who had worked so tirelessly to save them are now experiencing profound feelings of guilt that they couldn't help any more.

Empowerment through sport

Haley Carter knows all about stressful work environments -- she spent nearly eight years in the US Marine Corps, deploying to Fallujah and Al Asad Airbase in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The 37-year-old American also played Division I college football as a goalkeeper and signed for the Houston Dash, before moving to the sidelines to become a coach.

But over the last few days, her two career paths have converged in a critical way.

It was in April 2016 that Carter joined the Afghanistan National Women's team as an assistant coach. It was a fledgling team with a limited history, formed only in 2007 and which was only made possible by a more tolerant approach to equality and human rights.

In a country where previously girls and women were barely allowed out of the house, let alone provided an education…
By Don Riddell, CNN
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