Afghan army trains women for special forces

Afghan forces

The role of female soldiers also has come under debate in the United States after the Pentagon decided last month to open up front-line combat jobs to women.

Col. Jalaluddin Yaftaly, the commander of the joint Special Unit of the Afghan National Army, said villagers don't like foreign forces to carry out operations in their homes, but they have welcomed the Afghan special forces units and cooperated with them in many operations.

"We were faced with so many problems when we didn't have female special forces in our units,'' Yaftaly said. "Female special forces are quite useful.''

On a recent frigid winter morning, an Afghan special forces unit, comprising 30 men and women soldiers, drilled at a training center in Kabul.

As part of the exercise, the unit was told that an insurgent leader was hiding in a house and women and children were inside with him.

The men on the team prepared to raid the house and arrest or kill the target. Abdali and two other female colleagues were tasked with making sure no women or children were harmed during the operation.

The most dangerous part of their assignment was the possibility that the main target was hiding among the women _ perhaps in disguise _ so Abdali and her colleagues had to stay alert to make sure they themselves were not attacked while getting innocent women and children out of harm's way.

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.

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