A plane carrying more than 75 Afghan female soccer players, officials and relatives under threat from the Taliban left Kabul on Tuesday, bound for Australia, the first country to offer a haven in response to pleas from a multinational network of athlete advocates and human-rights lawyers.

With many more imperiled athletes still in Afghanistan, evacuation efforts are continuing around-the-clock, with outreach to multiple countries including the United States.

But the efforts are getting more challenging by the day, according to Haley Carter, a former U.S. Marine Corps officer and former assistant coach of the Afghan women’s team. Carter played a key role in orchestrating the initial evacuation, alongside Fifpro, the international soccer players’ union, and other advocates working to lobby governments to grant the athletes asylum.

“We’re hoping to get as many as we can out over the next couple of days. The window is obviously closing. Time is of the essence,” Carter said in a telephone interview Tuesday, alluding to the Taliban’s Aug. 31 deadline for the withdrawal of all foreign troops.

The prospect of further evacuations grew dimmer later Tuesday, with the Taliban’s subsequent announcement it was blocking Afghan nationals from reaching the airport.

The political and operational hurdles behind Tuesday’s evacuation were monumental, according to Carter, who likened it to “a digital Dunkirk,” alluding to the evacuation of stranded Allied soldiers from the beaches of northern France during World War II. In this case, many of the fleeing athletes and their families dodged gunfire and were beaten at Taliban checkpoints en route to the Kabul airport, she said.

“It’s nothing short of a miracle,” Carter said of the operation, praising the work of military coalition forces from Canada, Britain, Sweden, Australia and the United States who helped the athletes reach the airport — in some cases pulling them from a canal filled with sewer water that was part of their route.

The plane that left Kabul for Australia included 77 Afghan evacuees. The exact number of female soccer players among them is unclear, according to Fifpro, but athletes are believed to account for more than half that number, joined by relatives and sports officials who were also under threat.

The driving force behind the soccer players’ extraction was Khalida Popal, 34, a former captain of Afghanistan’s national women’s soccer team, who has urged international governments and sports governing bodies to protect female athletes amid the Taliban’s return to power.

From her home in Denmark, Popal had warned players to burn their jerseys and not leave their homes — girls and women are forbidden from playing sports under the Taliban — and urged them not to leave their homes without a male chaperone.

“These young women, both as athletes and activists, have been in a position of danger, and on behalf of their peers around the world we thank the international community for coming to their aid,” Fifpro said in a statement. “There remains much work to do to support and settle these young women, and we urge the international community to make sure that they receive all the help they need. There are also many athletes still at risk in Afghanistan, and every effort should be made to offer them support.”

The "Afghan Dreamers," an all-girl robotics team from Afghanistan, have escaped the country amid the Taliban's takeover of Afghanistan. (Julie Yoon, Christopher Vazquez/The Washington Post)

Since its formation in 2007, the Afghan women’s team has worked closely with Fifpro, which has supported its players’ development. The team was formed after the Taliban was driven from power in 2001, according to Popal, with the express purpose of empowering girls and women and giving them the freedom to play sports. From the outset, the team declared the Taliban its enemy.

With the Taliban’s return to power this month, female athletes face danger, as do their parents and siblings. According to Fifpro, the outreach on behalf of the female soccer players started around Aug. 12, when advocates approached the governments of six countries — Australia, Belgium, Canada, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States — about granting them visas.

Australia was first to offer humanitarian visas, expediting the process on behalf of the Afghan athletes. Fifpro cited the work of Australian human rights activist and former soccer player Craig Foster; human rights lawyer and former Olympic swimmer Nikki Dryden; and Alison Battisson, director of Human Rights for All; Kelly Lindsey, the former Afghan women’s head coach; and Carter.

In a statement released by Fifpro, Popal hailed the evacuation as “an important victory.”

“The women footballers have been brave and strong in a moment of crisis, and we hope they will have a better life outside Afghanistan,” Popal said. “But there is still much more work to do. Women’s football is a family, and we must make sure everyone is safe.”

Carter, who coached the Afghan women’s team alongside Lindsey, was a soccer standout at Navy, played goalkeeper for the Houston Dash and has advanced degrees in law and business.

She called reports that the Taliban assisted in any way with evacuation efforts “a total farce.”

Carter praised the work of military coalition forces on the ground in Afghanistan, as well as U.S. State Department and congressional personnel whom she described as working tirelessly to take information on behalf of endangered Afghans and process visa applications. But she didn’t mask her disappointment with the response of the United States’ senior military and political leadership. “I just refuse to believe that we couldn’t have done this better,” she said.