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Rage Against the Machine's Tom Morello Pleads for Help to Get Female Guitar Students Out of Afghanistan

Tom Morello
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Tom Morello photographed backstage before a live solo performance at Ashton Gate Stadium June 5, 2019 in Bristol, England.

Morello is advocating on behalf of students in Lanny Cordola's Girl With a Guitar program, who are trapped in Kabul following the Taliban takeover.

Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello is advocating on behalf of a group of young female musicians in Afghanistan to get them out of harm’s way following the Taliban takeover of capital city, Kabul.

Over the weekend, Morello wrote an open letter asking the music industry for help; it was sent to Billboard by his friend, guitar teacher Lanny Cordola. The former Giuffria and House of Lords band member started a music school for girls in Afghanistan through his non-profit Miraculous Love Kids, an organization he founded in 2010 to teach guitar to children in war-torn areas.

In 2015, Cordola launched a program in Kabul called Girl With a Guitar, which has taught close to 200 students. The students have recorded remotely with Brian Wilson, Sammy Hagar, Nick Cave and Blake Shelton, in addition to recording a 2020 version of the Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams” with Morello, The Go-Gos’Kathy Valentine, The Bangles’ Vicki Peterson and the Foo Fighters’ Rami Jaffee, among other musicians.

“I’m writing on behalf of some very special girls in Afghanistan who are in grave danger,” Morello says. “[Girl With a Guitar] takes in street orphans and other girls that have endured significant trauma and uses music as a rehabilitation tool and means of working through their problems, their histories, and their hopes. I’ve had the honor of collaborating with these wonderful kids. Since the Taliban takeover their school has been destroyed and the girls are in hiding. They are at extreme risk because they are widely known to have performed Western music and have been educated by a male American teacher. Anything you could do to help save their lives would be much appreciated.”

Cordola is now in Pakistan, working to get his students out. (He was in Islamabad to get his visa renewed when the government toppled.) He tells Billboard he is trying to get 12 girls, their families and his driver out of the country “because their lives are in peril.” After a mission failed to fly them out several days ago, he is pursuing other options.

“We’re trying to investigate if getting them to the Pakistan border is a possibility,” he says, adding he is in daily contact with his students. “We’ve been talking to a lot of different people, rescue organizations. We need to get them out of Afghanistan to start a new life somewhere.” Cordola can be reached at lcordola19@gmail.com. People can support the students here.

When asked what happens if he can’t get them out, he says, “That’s not an option. I’m not thinking that way yet.” He did ask them to destroy their guitars -- provided by Kiefer Sutherland -- but the school’s program coordinator ultimately decided to store them in the now-shuttered school, away from the girls’ homes, since broken fragments could have aroused the Taliban’s suspicions.

In an extensive interview he did with Mitch Albom for the Detroit Free Press last week,  Cordola discussed the school’s origins and his concern for his students, many of whom have no paperwork to get out.

The school’s program coordinator, whose name is being with withheld for security reasons, said in a statement, “Now, with the Taliban's rapid takeover of Kabul, we are literally in hiding, with our most senior students in particular danger. Our school is closed … as girls playing Western music with our American male teacher, we could not be at greater risk.

“We appeal to the international community, to diplomats, politicians, news media, and NGOs working to evacuate civilians under threat, to please find a way to get as many of us on planes leaving Afghanistan to safety,” the statement continues. “Time is imperative as the airlift is scheduled to end, which would leave us here without hope.”

Though the final U.S. troops are still slated to leave Afghanistan on Aug. 31, on Aug. 29, 98 countries -- including the U.S. -- signed a pledge to take in people of all nationalities, including Afghans, following an agreement with the Taliban to allow them to leave, according to The New York Times.