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Women, girls involved with Ascend program in Afghanistan are threatened by Taliban rule

Barbed wire and mountains in Afghanistan: Koh-e-Omah (5766m), left, and Koh-e-Hawar (6266m). [Photo] Matt Traver

Barbed wire and mountains in Afghanistan: Koh-e-Omah (5766m), left, and Koh-e-Hawar (6266m). [Photo] Matt Traver

The members, graduates and students of the Ascend program in Afghanistan need help.

The nonprofit has offered leadership training for young Afghan women through mountaineering courses, and now that Taliban forces have seized control over much of the country, including the nation’s capital city of Kabul, people who do not adhere to the Taliban’s strict laws–such as organizations like Ascend that empower women–may now be in mortal danger.

Ascend representatives wrote in an email:

In 2018, an Ascend team member became the first Afghan woman to stand atop Noshaq [7492m], Afghanistan’s highest peak. For years, Ascend has operated in Kabul helping Afghan young women climb to their potential, all the while sending a greater message to the country: women deserve rights, respect, and power.

As the crisis continues to worsen, this team of athletes and women’s rights activists fears that their work may make them the target of Taliban violence. Ascends’ plight is explained by the organization’s Founder and Executive Director Marina Kielpinski LeGree on a CNN spotlight. The report can be found on Ascend’s Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

“Three times we’ve been caught in mobs where people have died,” LeGree says in the interview. “Fortunately our girls haven’t died…. We need the US military to get outside the wire and establish a safe zone to process civilians. It is not going to work to call people to the airport…. It doesn’t matter what their visa status is–they can’t get in the gate and they are dying in the attempts…. It’s difficult as an American to watch my country fail in this…. Our girls…know their time is limited and they will be targeted, so they’re just deciding which risk to take and it’s incredibly difficult.”

Alpinist has covered Ascend in various stories that have recently been temporarily taken offline on our website to avoid compromising the personal identities of those who might be endangered.

Ascend Ambassador Camille Fiducia, who is operating from outside the country, told Alpinist in an email:

The violence surrounding Hamid Karzai Airport (HKAI) has made it nearly impossible to evacuate our team. All access points to HKAI remain a gauntlet of Taliban gunfire and violence–Taliban have fired on civilians, people are dying, and our girls have witnessed truly horrific things. We are calling on governments to allow troops to go beyond the airfield gates to secure the area and allow access. If not done, countless more people who could have been rescued will miss their flights.

An update on the Ascend website from August 22, reads:

It’s been a week since the Taliban took over Afghanistan. And it’s been a week full of panic, fear, tears and uncertainty….

If you haven’t yet watched…LeGree’s interview on CNN this morning then we encourage you to do so….

We did have some good news this week, and many of you know this already, our Norwegian country manager [got] out safely and is now at home with her family….

The struggle continues and we will continue to fight to get the girls out of Afghanistan and as always we need your help:

1. Spread awareness and lobby your local representatives. We need civil action and political will to get our girls out. (The American Alpine Club shared a link in a newsletter to its members that allows them to sign a form letter to their Senators and Representatives.)

2. Donate to Ascend ( Donations will go directly to helping Ascend-affiliated girls and their families leave Afghanistan. This involves paying for visas, plane tickets, and travel expenses, and local currency in cash for wherever they land.

“If we don’t sort this out, we’ll literally be condemning people to death,” LeGree says in an Associated Press story that was published August 18.

A video posted to Instagram on August 19 shows gunshots erupting at the airport.