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Portugal offers asylum to Afghanistan's girls soccer team

One person wants to become a doctor while another wants to make movies. Others want engineers. All of us dream of becoming professional soccer players as children.

Finally, the message arrived early Sunday morning: A charter flight would transport the girls and their families to Afghanistan. They were already on the way to get them to the airport in buses.

Farkhunda Muhtaj was the captain of Afghanistan's women's national team. She had spent the past few weeks communicating and helping to arrange rescue for the girls. said this to The Associated Press. They can't believe they're leaving Afghanistan.

The families of the 14-16-year-old girls fled Afghanistan after the U.S. pulled out. They were afraid for their lives under Taliban rule. This was not because they are prohibited from playing sports but because they advocated for girls and were active members in their communities.

They landed in Lisbon, Portugal, late Sunday.

Interviews with the AP this Week: Muhtaj, some members of the soccer team, their families and staff of the soccer federation spoke out about their last days in Afghanistan, their international rescue effort, and the promise that they will be free.

Operation Soccer Balls was a rescue mission coordinated with the Taliban by an international coalition consisting of ex-military and intelligence officers, U.S. Senator Chris Coons and U.S. allies and humanitarian groups. Nic McKinley is a CIA veteran and Air Force veteran who established DeliverFund in Dallas, a non-profit that has provided housing for 50 Afghan families.

"All of this had to happen very quickly. McKinley stated that McKinley was informed by a contact on the ground that there was a three-hour window. McKinley stated, "Time was of the essence."

Operation Soccer Balls was facing a series of setbacks including failed rescue attempts and a suicide bombing by Islamic State militants (the Taliban's rivals) at Kabul airport, which resulted in the deaths of 169 Afghans as well as 13 U.S. military personnel. The bombing occurred during an extremely difficult airlift, in which the U.S. military acknowledged that it had been coordinating with the Taliban.

The 80-strong group, which included 26 youth team members and adults, made it difficult to rescue the children.

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