How the Afghans saved their country from famine and rescued their Olympic team

Remember all those weeks ago when it looked like Kabul could fall and the Afghan people could be trapped in a deadly trap? There were reports that the Taliban were in the city, that…

How the Afghans saved their country from famine and rescued their Olympic team

Remember all those weeks ago when it looked like Kabul could fall and the Afghan people could be trapped in a deadly trap?

There were reports that the Taliban were in the city, that car bombs were a “real possibility,” and that people were starving to death on the streets.

Fortunately, that’s not what happened. In fact, the rebels retreated without any significant loss of life.

Still, that’s not exactly a ringing endorsement for “world class” athletes like Naima Ahmadi, 42, who won a bronze medal for Afghanistan at the 1993 world gymnastics championships.

Still, here’s a colorful tale to show how an unlikely coalition of Afghani players and officials — who somehow figured out how to remove the Taliban in less than three months — came together to save the country from famine. The season opened this week, and a few of the athletes, officials and their families were able to fly out of Kabul.

Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of this story is the central role played by the Washington Redskins. They organized the second airlift of international players from Kabul, and then bought charter flights to London. Each charter flight had to carry 35 athletes, officials and their families. It was a dozen of them — mostly national team members — who came on the first of the flights.

This is what a local journalist and longtime Kabul resident, for whom this was his first Olympics, wrote last week:

“All night Sunday, I slept well, sensing that the Americans had delivered. I woke up at 4:30 a.m. to the sound of an occasional crackle and boom. How many explosions could there be in the middle of the night? Now that the first plane was bringing international sporting champions, it really was good to be alive. These were men and women — young and old, many of them disabled — who had survived what was likely to have been the deadliest moment in Afghan history.

“I had nearly forgotten that Naima Ahmadzai, the gymnast from Kabul, had been crowned world champion more than 25 years ago. She fell to the floor in tears when she won. It was devastating. She had so much promise. It was a tragedy. “Over the course of the next three days, the bomb explosions sent other Afghans to their deaths. There was a deaf man who heard the first blast and collapsed. A 17-year-old boy named Ali Yousef awoke to see the front gate of his school blast and run away. “He never returned. “Tragically, the fighting forced out the United Nations representative in Afghanistan in October. Tragically, little chance remains for peace. But here’s something positive that happened on the same night that the United Nations representative was blown to pieces.”

Ahmadi was one of the 12 who got out of Kabul on the first of the charter flights. After that, she joined the rest of the international athletes and officials for a reception in Washington, which featured a lively game of basketball with D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and a performance by singer Antonique Smith. All in all, the triumphant trip was worth around $700,000 for the Afghan people, according to a report last week by an Afghan TV station.

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