How a ‘ragtag group’ helped 86 Afghan athletes, officials and family members flee the Taliban

The Guardian followed the teams as they fled the Taliban-controlled North-West Frontier Province through Iran and Pakistan

How a ‘ragtag group’ helped 86 Afghan athletes, officials and family members flee the Taliban

‘We thought they would kill us’: 86 Afghan athletes, officials and family members flee Taliban Read more

Exhausted and starving, the 86 Afghan athletes, officials and family members swam across the River River Kabul before walking for several days through the desert until reaching Iran.

They came from North-West Frontier Province, which was under Taliban control when they made the journey through Iran and Pakistan in May.

A uniformed official shows a piece of paper which lists every non-combatant member of a group fleeing Afghanistan with $250 to $500. Photograph: Mohammad Sarwar Sahib/AFP/Getty Images

They climbed on the back of trucks and sat on the floor as they waited until relatives arrived to help them cross the border into safety.

The rare man who could only offer potatoes is sent to remain with family under house arrest in Iran. Photograph: Mohammad Sarwar Sahib/AFP/Getty Images

Guards escorting the train lined up a strict set of criteria on how the runners and shooters had to travel. Photograph: Mohammad Sarwar Sahib/AFP/Getty Images

A Peshawar-based journalist, who has run for the Independent National Election Commission in eastern Afghanistan and runs the Red Crescent in southern Afghanistan, also escorted the team but had to make sure that each sport had enough people to cover the journey, each two km a day, and that a quarantine ban imposed by US forces was followed.

Running poses little risk to the participants due to the packedness of the train. Photograph: Mohammad Sarwar Sahib/AFP/Getty Images

Each runner had to pay the return transport fare but none of them got anything extra. Photograph: Mohammad Sarwar Sahib/AFP/Getty Images

The runners ran on a platform, platform 15, while a handful of them climbed up an escalator. Photograph: Mohammad Sarwar Sahib/AFP/Getty Images

A Fata officer, not an active Afghan officer, gives water to a runner. Photograph: Mohammad Sarwar Sahib/AFP/Getty Images

Taliban fighters had surrounded the town of Khan Abad and held it for the best part of a week. Photograph: Mohammad Sarwar Sahib/AFP/Getty Images

Soldiers stop the Taliban fighters to search their weapon. Photograph: Mohammad Sarwar Sahib/AFP/Getty Images

For almost a week, they guarded the train as it crossed into Pakistan. Photograph: Mohammad Sarwar Sahib/AFP/Getty Images

Around a dozen Taliban fighters were in every station. Photograph: Mohammad Sarwar Sahib/AFP/Getty Images

An Afghan female runner receives an injection. Photograph: Mohammad Sarwar Sahib/AFP/Getty Images

After several days, it is far too late for breakfast. Photograph: Mohammad Sarwar Sahib/AFP/Getty Images

A song during a basketball match. Photograph: Mohammad Sarwar Sahib/AFP/Getty Images

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