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A Reflection on Afghanistan: One Year Later

On April 14, 2021, US President Joe Biden announced that after a 20-year war in Afghanistan, the US would begin to remove troops from May 1, for a complete departure of all troops by September 11, 2021. Ascend was hopeful at the time that the country had progressed enough in the last 20 years to not go backwards, and although we made contingency plans, we had no intention of stopping our work to empower the young women of Afghanistan in our new sports center in Kabul and the beautiful mountains of Afghanistan. Unfortunately, we were wrong.

Soon after the announcement, the Taliban began launching successful offensive campaigns starting in the southern provinces and pushing their reach and authority closer and closer to Kabul. On August 15, with the Taliban just outside of Kabul and Afghan forces rapidly surrendering, the Afghan President, Ashraf Ghani, fled the country and the Taliban took over the government.

Taliban searched buses, including the buses our evacuees were on. Crowds at Hamid Karzai International Airport (HKIA) made the airport impossible to access. Reports that a major attack was imminent put us on high alert. On August 26, a suicide bomber at the airport killed 183 people.

Risking their lives, thousands of Afghans swarmed to the airport hoping to make it onto a flight and out of the country (we all remember the pictures of people desperately trying to board full flights). Many had partnered with the US government and feared their involvement would lead to persecution. Others, like Ascend’s staff and participants, worried their involvement in an NGO supporting the empowerment of women through sport would put them in harm's way - since women’s ability t