Decorated US marines veteran and former assistant coach of the Afghanistan women’s national football team, Haley Carter, has expressed her “extreme disappointment” at senior military and political leaders for their “botched” handling of the evacuation from Afghanistan and said the situation is “rapidly devolving”.
Carter, who served two tours in Iraq, said: “I would really like to see some senior military and political leadership step up. I’m just incredibly disappointed, I’m incredibly disappointed with the information that’s coming out of the Pentagon because it’s just not good enough. On behalf of my players and on behalf on military personnel there working their butts off to pull this off I’m also incredibly frustrated and I don’t know how much longer what’s happening is maintainable.
“We have soldiers and marines on the ground that are doing everything they can, that are showing compassion and professionalism, but the reality is that from a senior military level the plan to evacuate and transition out is clearly botched. The senior military planning, strategic level planning, is lacking. We have set up soldiers and marines for failure. We’ve done them a disservice, we’ve done the Afghans a disservice, we’ve done our own US citizens and British citizens a disservice,” she added.
The former Houston Dash goalkeeper is helping the attempt to try and get hugely at risk female athletes, including players she has coached, out of the country. A wide network for military veterans, NGOs and active military personnel are working together in pockets to informally coordinate a wide rescue that has been dubbed a ‘digital Dunkirk’.
Those working with Carter on attempting to evacuate athletes have been operating around the clock across four time zones and with NGOs and various government organisations, while taking tactical naps so at least two are always lobbying and available to players on the ground.
“I’m so tired, on every level,” said Carter. “In fighting this war, apparently in the name of Western nation building and democratisation, we have empowered certain populations. Women are a population. We specifically used them as a vehicle to generate change and combat oppression. We used them as a tool to do that and the women’s football team was especially useful as a tool because they took on not just playing sport, in opposition to what Taliban ideology would be, but they took on controversial issues like sexual abuse.
“The criminal justice system in Afghanistan fundamentally changed because of what they did and their willingness to speak out. Inherently, on the flip side they have become a target. We can’t on one side to encourage and empower women to make the change that we want to see and then abandon them when things turn. We have to be accountable to that. That accountability applies across the board to activists, political dissidents, journalists, photographers and others. We owe accountability to all of those individuals and for me what’s happening at the airport is a failure to be accountable to those individuals.”
At the airport in Kabul there is seemingly no strategy for managing the flow of people and it is chaos, Carter said. Former captain of the women’s national team Shabnam Mobarez, whose family fled the country when she was a few years old and moved to Denmark as refugees in 2003, fears for those being turned away from the airport.
“People are desperate, they come to the airport wanting to get out because they have nothing to live for in Afghanistan,” she said. “We look at papers and documents but we don’t look at this human being as a human being. Why are we looking at papers at this moment?”
Many women in the country do not have a passport or “even know what they are” she added, given that in order to obtain one they have to have a man with them.
“It makes it even more impossible for people to get out,” she said. “The people that get turned away, what happens to them? No one cares about those people. They take a trip from their home to the airport and get rejected then have to make a trip back past the Taliban asking you why you went and what you’re hiding. They are going to get shot. These things aren’t getting focused on. The focus is on those getting evacuated but don’t forgot those turned away, pointed straight at death.”
She added: “What we miss in this process is that people are dying. We’re talking about who’s to blame but people keep dying. We hear about an Afghan person that died, or a group that died, or a terror bomb but the Afghan suffering has become so normalised throughout history. That’s the most inhumane thing that we have done to the Afghan people.”
Reports that the Taliban have changed are wide of the mark said both Carter and Mobarez. Carter said they have had confirmation that the Taliban are going door to door. Mobarez, who still has family in the country, including women that have gone into hiding, speaks of the goosebumps she felt when one player who told her she would pick death over certain torture she will face.
“She was telling me she feels like they are getting closer and closer with every hour,” she said. “When people say the Taliban has changed, they have changed, they are smarter. They have changed for the worse. For now the Taliban is being patient because the world is watching.”