Afghan girls in climbing group wait and hope, desperate to escape Taliban rule


(AFGHANISTAN) — For girls and young women accustomed to mountain climbing and physical fitness training six times a week, being confined in a crowded wedding hall near an airport in northern Afghanistan is a different kind of challenge — one with their fates at stake.

It’s the new reality for dozens of them affiliated with Ascend, an organization that teaches Afghan women and girls athletic-based leadership skills. They came to the airport in Mazar-e-Sharif 10 days ago for evacuation flights the Taliban have blocked, heightening their fears they’ll be left behind.

“We’re trying to remind them we haven’t forgotten you. The world hasn’t forgotten you,” Marina LeGree, founder and executive director of Ascend told ABC News. “But some of them are losing hope.”

While the first passenger flight out of Kabul since the Taliban seized power took off on Thursday, carrying some U.S. citizens and other Westerners on board, life-and-death concerns loom for at-risk Afghans still in the country, especially for women like those of Ascend who have exercised independence in the last 20 years, free from Taliban rule.

Founded in 2014, Ascend is a U.S.-based nonprofit operating in Afghanistan that recruits a new group of Afghan girls and young women aged 15-24 each year to embark on a two-year mountaineering program. The recruits — who have trained in Ghaza Stadium, used by the last Taliban government for public punishment — have a mission of fostering leadership, volunteerism, and physical and mental well-being for the next generation.

But if the group in Mazar-e-Sharif is left behind, LaGree fears they’ll be married off to Taliban fighters — or worse.

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