Former Houston Dash goalie helps Afghan women's soccer team escape Kabul

Australian government also offered to process visas for the athletes in real time

Miya Shay Image
Thursday, September 2, 2021
Former Dash goalie helps Afghan women's soccer team escape Kabul
How do you evacuate 100 young female soccer players and their families? It wasn't easy, according to Haley Carter.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Among the many miraculous escape stories out of Afghanistan over the past few weeks, perhaps one of the most successful was the evacuation of all senior members of the Afghanistan Women's National Soccer team.

One of the team's assistant coaches was the driving force behind the evacuation from her home in Houston.

When the images of the Taliban rolling through Kabul flashed across TV screens around the world, Haley Carter knew the Afghan women she coached just a few years ago were in danger.

"They weren't just athletes, they weren't just women kicking a ball around," said Haley, pointing out that by simply playing soccer outside the home and at international tournaments, it made some traditionalists in the country uneasy. "Everything they stood for is the antithesis of what the Taliban stands for."

READ MORE: Up to 200 Americans left behind as final US military aircraft leaves Afghanistan

But how do you evacuate 100 young female soccer players and their families?

It wasn't easy.

First, to protect the women, Carter and other international soccer colleagues advised the women to delete their social media profiles and move to safe houses, if possible.

Then, it was time to get to work.

Carter, a former officer in the Marine Corps who was deployed several times, drew on both her military background and her network of professional athletes. Carter was a reserve goalie for the Houston Dash after retiring from active military duty and was the assistant coach for the Afghan national team in 2016.

"We cast a wide net," said Carter, who, along with friends, called the U.S., Canada, Germany and many other countries for help.

The Australian government opened its doors the widest, offering to process visas for the athletes in real time.

"We said, 'If you can get to the airport, we'll help you get the paperwork,'" said Carter. "It was chaotic. Many of them were beaten, they had their phones stolen, there were cattle prods [the Taliban] were electrocuting people with. The horrors they endured just to get into the airport were just unbelievable."

With the Australian government willing to expedite visas, Carter worked with an ad-hoc group of footballers and veterans.

They stayed up for days calling, emailing, and helping gather visas. They also connected with soldiers on the ground, who could pull the women out of the crowd and into the airport.

"They did the hard work, right? We just coached them, just like we did a football game. We gave them the guidance. They waded through sewer water, they were beaten, [and] they got into the airport."

In all, around 100 outspoken world class female athletes were successfully evacuated.

READ ALSO: Afghans who got out in time fear for relatives: 'It's the last time we're going to meet each other'

An interpreter and his wife arrived in the U.S. in 2020 with a special visa. They went to visit family in Kabul in July but found themselves in the middle of the government collapse. When they found a way home, he had to leave his mother and siblings behind.

Their first stop was Qatar.

Several dozen are now already in Australia, where they will all resettle eventually.

The professional soccer associations in Australia are already helping the women get acquainted.

The future won't be easy, but at least they are safe.

As for Carter -- the former marine, professional goalie, coach, and a recent University of Houston Law School graduate - said helping facilitate the evacuation was a duty and an honor.

"I've been with those athletes since 2015," she said. "I know them. I know their families. I would expect any coach to keep those women safe."

For updates on this report, follow ABC13 reporter Miya Shay on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.