U.S. President Donald Trump intervened to allow a group of Afghan girls into the country to participate in a robotics competition, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on July 12.
Six female students from Herat in western Afghanistan had applied to participate in an international competition starting July 16, but the U.S. State Department denied their visa applications twice, sparking a public backlash.
After Trump learned of their troubles and intervened, they were granted permission to visit for 10 days.
Dina Powell, Trump's deputy national security adviser for strategy, said, “We could not be prouder of this delegation of young women who are also scientists. They represent the best of the Afghan people. ... They are future leaders of Afghanistan and strong ambassadors for their country.”
Critics had argued that the visa denials sent the wrong message to Afghanistan, where U.S. troops are still fighting Taliban militants who once barred girls from attending school. The visa rejections also undercut the administration’s claim that it cares about empowering women globally.
Around 160 countries are participating in the competition, with the team from Iran the first to arrive, organizers said.