When Afghans hit the roads to flee the Taliban, there was a helicopter for their refugees.

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Early on Monday, Afghan asylum seekers quickly landed in the United States, and President Trump had already dispatched that crucial signal of solidarity to Afghan women who were forced to flee and live in Afghanistan. A little later, another U.S. decision made waves in Kabul.

To escape rising anger, Afghan and American officials had created a ragtag mission of 174 security personnel to escort 86 professional athletes, government officials and family members from Afghanistan to the airport, the New York Times reported, citing an Afghan army spokesman. They were accompanied by senior politicians, religious scholars and other individuals who wanted to see the Olympics return to Afghanistan.

“We were afraid,” said Faryad Ghorub, an Afghan soccer player who fled Afghanistan in April. “We had to make arrangements and do certain rituals so we could remain safe,” and avoid the Taliban.

Ghorub and her teammates practiced twice a day. So did some of the other athletes and their families.

The plan was that they would travel to Afghanistan, but there was no guarantee they would make it. They practiced on Friday and Saturday, spending two days at the airport waiting to depart. Then, after three hours of a packed dining hall and field with no food or water, they were held up for an hour by customs.

Once they got through, a few dozen people went to get boarding passes and get on a plane.

The security delegation headed to the airport to fly the athletes, coaches and family members to Canada, where they would sign up for years of training for the Tokyo Olympics. The Times reported that the Afghan delegation to the Tokyo Olympics is the largest in the world and the two projects are expected to be next on the list for funding and foreign investment in Afghanistan’s reconstruction.

When the train pulled away, eight hour before the plane was supposed to take off, Ghorub and her colleagues began to relax and talk. They turned to social media to find out what the government wanted. But they soon discovered there was an even bigger story behind the government of Ghani’s administration trying to persuade the American government to give it more money: that no one could tell the runners from the rest of the country who was on the train and who was just on the standby list.

Ghorub and her teammates gave up on the idea of leaving Afghanistan.

The athletes had to flee Afghanistan earlier this year as the Taliban launched an offensive on Kabul. Women there routinely faced violence and strict gender codes. Their participation in the Olympics would be a victory of their own, not an American victory.

“It was a crazy mission, but we got to take a flight,” said Ghorub. “We thought we were going to die.”

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