Afghan women join army for night raids

Afghan women join army for night raids

KABUL - The Associated Press
Afghan women join army for night raids

Female members of Afghan special forces (first row) pose for a picture. AP photo

The Afghan army is training female Special Forces to take part in night raids against insurgents, breaking new ground in an ultraconservative society and filling a vacuum left by departing international forces.

“If men can carry out this duty why not women?” asks Lena Abdali, a 23-year-old Afghan soldier who was one of the first women to join one of the special units in 2011.

Afghan women have been part of their nation’s security forces for years, but they didn’t start being recruited for the Special Forces until 2011. Defense Ministry spokesman Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi said more than 1,000 women were in the army, a small fraction of the total force of 195,000. The military advantages to having Afghan female Special Forces soldiers, however, have not yet offset the social issues women like Abdali face in doing their jobs. A woman conducting night raids with male soldiers in a conservative country like Afghanistan is still not socially acceptable. Before she starts to fight the enemy in military operations she has to struggle with her family, relatives and others who might disapprove.

Rounding up women

The raids now are conducted jointly by U.S. and Afghan forces, but the female Afghan special forces soldiers play an important role. Their job: Round up women and children and get them to safety while guarding against the potential dangers of female suicide bombers or militants disguised in women’s clothes.

Night raids have long been a divisive issue between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the U.S.-led coalition that says the raids are essential to capturing Taliban commanders.