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10 girls on Afghanistan's robotics team rescued

The team, a group of girls ages 16-18 pursuing their love of engineering and robotics, safely arrived in Doha, Qatar, days after Kabul fell to the Taliban.
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/ Source: TODAY

UPDATE: On Aug. 24, a lawyer for the Afghan Girls Robotics Team sent a cease-and-desist letter to Allyson Reneau, asking her to stop overstating her role in helping the team leave Afghanistan. Reneau denied any exaggeration and said she was part of a group effort. A full report on the dispute can be found here.

Ten girls from Afghanistan's girls robotics team have been rescued from Afghanistan.

"Several members of the girls Afghan robotics team have safely arrived in Doha, Qatar, from Kabul, Afghanistan," a statement from the Digital Citizen Fund and Qatar Ministry of Foreign Affairs said of the Afghan Girls Robotic Team.

The team, which consists of a group of girls ages 16-18 who have overcome hardship to pursue their love of engineering and robotics in Afghanistan, safely arrived in Doha, Qatar, days after Kabul fell to the Taliban.

"The Digital Citizen Fund (DCF), the team's parent organization, is deeply grateful to the government of Qatar for their outstanding support, which included not only expediting the visa process but sending a plane after outbound flights from Afghanistan were repeatedly canceled," the DCF said in a statement.

Elizabeth Schaeffer Brown, a board member on the DCF, said that she and the DCF founder had been working with Qatar since early August when it became clear that the Taliban would be overthrowing the government.

"The flight out of Kabul was only at the very end of a journey in which safety was always a concern," she said.

"Ultimately the girls 'rescued' themselves. If it were not for their hard work and courage to pursue an education, which brought them in contact with the world, they would still be trapped. We need to continue to support them and others like them," she said. Unfortunately, several members of the team remain in Afghanistan. DCF is working with Qatar to arrange transportation for the remaining members and their aides.

When Kabul fell, the robotics team was on the mind of many.

Allyson Reneau, a mom of 11 who graduated from Harvard in 2016 with a masters in international relations and U.S. space policy, could not stop thinking about the girls when the Taliban began to take over the country.

Reneau, 60, first met the girls through her work on the board of directors for Explore Mars, when the girls attended the 2019 Human to Mars conference. Reneau has kept in touch with the girls over the years, and as reports of a Taliban takeover grew, she had an overwhelming feeling the team of girls might be in danger.

"I remembered my former roommate in D.C. a couple of years ago was transferred to Qatar," Reneau explained. "She said she worked in the U.S. Embassy in Qatar... she was sure her boss would approve helping the girls."

Reneau and her former roommate attempted the necessary paperwork to get the girls out. It is unclear how much their efforts helped, but Reneau is relieved to know 10 of the girls are now safe. The U.S. State Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the effort.

The girls were flown to a secure location, where they will be able to pursue higher education.

"We appreciate this and hope it translates to long-term commitment to girls' education," Brown said. "This is the most effective way to guarantee their safety and a better future for everyone."