HERAT -- More women are joining the ranks of Afghan security forces as they seek to play a bigger role in fighting terrorism and ensuring the security of their country, military officials say.
Women's presence in the Afghan National Army (ANA) has doubled as compared to four years ago, said Maj. Zahragul Popal, director of the gender unit at the 207th Zafar Corps in Herat Province.
"There is a pressing need for women to join the forces as they complement the [security and defence] system," she added. "Women who serve in the ranks of security forces, especially in the ANA, have proved that they are capable and they work alongside their brothers to maintain security."
Afghan women have skills in various areas and the government should provide opportunities for them in order to benefit from their capabilities, said Popal.
Far fewer women served in the Afghan forces a few years back, but now women constitute a significant percentage of the forces, and women's interest in joining their ranks is increasing, said Lt. Shakila Faroogh, who also serves in the 207th Zafar Corps.
"My family encouraged me to join the ANA," she said. "[I call on] Afghan women and girls to join the ranks of the ANA and show their bravery as Afghan women."
The capacity of women in security forces has improved and they are able to serve Afghanistan in the capacity of commissioned and non-commissioned officers with the ANA, the National Police and the National Directorate of Security, added Faroogh.
"I wanted to serve in the security forces from a young age, and I was finally able to achieve my dream," said Sgt. Najiba Karimi, a non-commissioned officer with the border forces in Herat Province. "I have been serving for nearly 10 years with the border forces."
During her time with these forces, she has taken part in many operations alongside other soldiers, she said.
"Women's presence in the ANA has increased compared with previous years, and they're very interested [in joining the forces]," said Karimi. "Women serving in security institutions focus on improving their professional capabilities, and they are always busy exercising and undergoing military training."
A pledge to serve Afghanistan
A number of women, including Lt. Mariam Noorzai from Herat Province, joined the ANA after they lost relatives who were service members.
"My husband, who served in the ANA, was injured and became disabled," she said. "My husband's brother, who was serving in the ANA too, was martyred in fighting the Taliban."
"After my husband was disabled and my husband's brother was killed, I wore my husband's uniform and joined the ANA," she added.
"It is everyone's duty -- men and women -- to defend Afghanistan, and we'll defend our country to the last drop of our blood," she said.
First Lt. Rukhshana Hamidi from Herat city was inspired to join the ANA after her son was killed fighting the Taliban.
"My son, who was an ANA officer, was martyred in fighting the Taliban, and after I lost him, I joined," she said. "My son's martyrdom pushed me to join the ANA and not to stay at home."
"Three of my sons serve in the ANA, and we promise that we'll defend our people and country to the last drop of our blood, and we won't let our enemies destroy our country," she added.
Bakhtawar Zarifi, a radio officer in the 207th Zafar Corps from Herat Province, lost her husband and two sons who served in the ANA.
"Making sacrifices for Afghanistan has made me serve with a stronger determination, and I won't allow anyone to do harm to our country and people," she said.
"We women serve in the ranks of the ANA alongside men, and we believe that we can defend our country and people," she added.
Acquiring professional capabilities
Women in the army receive military training in various areas just as men do, and they are able to take part in combat operations under tough circumstances, said Brig. Nazir Ahmad Sarak, the commander of the Zafar Corps' training centre.
Women have been serving very successfully with the ANA, he said.
"Women serving in the ANA fall under three categories: commissioned officers, sergeants [or non-commissioned officers] and privates who have taken military training courses," said Sarak. "As the number of women has increased in the ranks of the ANA, we're confident they will be able to help bring security" to the country."
"Training courses are always held for women in Kabul, which commissioned and non-commissioned officers attend, and these courses have helped improve their professional capabilities," said Maj. Popal, the Zafar Corps gender unit director.
In addition to military training programmes, computer, English language and literacy classes are available for women at the Zafar Corps so that women can gain familiarity with modern technology as they polish up their military capabilities, she said.
Women serving in the ANA have access to great facilities that are helping them to strengthen their capabilities every day, she added.