KABUL -- The Afghan Ministry of Defense (MoD) is seeking to recruit more women to serve in the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces (ANDSF), MoD spokesman Gen. Dawlat Waziri told Salaam Times.
"The MoD has enforced a special salary scale and other incentives for female recruits to encourage more women to join the ranks of the Afghan National Army (ANA)," he said.
The ministry is working with families and tribal elders to help convince families and women about the merits of enlisting, he said.
"We have facilities for women, separate rooms, and they are honoured in the army," he said.
About 400 women are undergoing training at MoD institutions, Waziri said.
Thirty women are in training at the National Military Academy, 62 are at the ANA Officer Academy, 143 are at Malalai Military School and another 109 are in training in Turkey, the MoD said in a press release January 27.
Sixty-six female cadets graduated from the military academy in Turkey at the end of February after four months of training.
On International Women's Day, March 8, Defence Minister Gen. Abdullah Habibi said 1,735 Afghan women serve in the army as officers, sergeants and soldiers.
"We plan to increase this number to more than 5,000," he said, adding that the ministry provides all women serving in ANA with facilities to improve their qualifications and knowledge.
He did not give a planned schedule for reaching that number.
"The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and respected people of Afghanistan respect women and mothers [...] and struggles against violence and gender discrimination," he said. The country also "considers women's role significant in society and government".
Serving with pride
Women serving in the military express pride in safeguarding their country and their people.
Army officer Rukhsana Alimi, 23, from Ghazni Province, said she decided to join the army to defend and save the lives of her people.
"My services will set an example for others," she told Salaam Times. "When I go to family parties and weddings of my friends, I tell them about the armed forces and I try to encourage girls to join."
Sabrina, 24, another army officer, said, "As soldiers for the ANA, we are ready to stand with our brothers and defend the nation and our beloved country."
Sabrina said she is very happy that the government is giving more facilities to train women.
"It will help and encourage more females to join the army and serve the nation," she told Salaam Times.
Zahra Bayat said her service in the army is a source of pride for her family.
"When I decided to join the army, my family was pleased for me and now they are proud that I am working to save my nation," she told Salaam Times.
"I am a soldier," she said. "I won't let people destroy girls' lives any more. This is what I am fighting for."
Success on the battlefield
"It is very special to see the women becoming officers, especially for the women themselves," said Fawzia Koofi, Afghan MP and chair of the parliament's Women, Civil Society and Human Rights Commission.
"You can see it in their eyes," she told Salaam Times. "They will contribute, with the men, to bring back the lost hopes of Afghanistan."
The new recruits are working very hard and succeeding, said Brig. Gen. Khatool Mohammadzai, the first woman commissioned in the Afghan army in the 1980s and the first Afghan woman paratrooper.
Mohammadzai served as an army instructor before the Taliban took power in 1996. She was reinstated in the post-2001 military.
"These cadets are battling and working really hard during training," she told Salaam Times, adding that female officers are graduating at a good rate and that "some exceptional women are among those who completed the course."
Women will help the army succeed and bring stability to the country, said Kabul-based military analyst Gen. (ret.) Atiqullah Amarkhil.
"We need women in our army because we are Muslims and Afghans and because only women can search homes and houses when needed," he said. "That's why women are important in the army."