Afghan woman goes from refugee to mil­i­tary pi­lot

Afghan women step to in­crease their pres­ence in so­ci­ety

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

KABUL: From a child­hood as a refugee, Capt Safia Ferozi is now fly­ing a trans­port plane for Afghanistan’s air force as the coun­try’s sec­ond fe­male pi­lot, a sign of the ef­forts to bring more women into the armed forces. Along the way, the 26-year-old Ferozi also mar­ried an­other pi­lot, who flies in the same unit sup­port­ing army ground forces. They are part of a small Afghan air force that is try­ing to take a greater role in fight­ing the Tale­ban in­sur­gency.

“When I wear mil­i­tary uni­form, I re­ally, re­ally feel proud of my­self as a woman,” Ferozi said while pre­par­ing for a flight at the air force base in the cap­i­tal, Kabul. She flies a C-208, a tur­bo­prop plane used as trans­port for the armed forces.

Nearly 16 years since the col­lapse of the mil­i­tant Tale­ban regime af­ter the US-led in­va­sion in 2001, Afghan women are tak­ing steps to in­crease their pres­ence in so­ci­ety, in­clud­ing in par­lia­ment, gov­ern­ment and the mil­i­tary. Still, they face re­sis­tance in a deeply con­ser­va­tive so­ci­ety where women are largely ex­pected to stay in the home and where vi­o­lence against women re­mains a wide­spread prob­lem.

When she was a child, Farozi’s fam­ily fled from their home in Kabul in the 1990s, dur­ing the civil war among Afghanistan’s war­lords. They took refuge in Pak­istan, re­turn­ing only af­ter the fall of the Tale­ban. In high school in post-Tale­ban Afghanistan, Farozi saw a TV com­mer­cial urg­ing women to join the mil­i­tary. So af­ter grad­u­a­tion she en­rolled in the mil­i­tary academy, study­ing to be­come a com­mu­ni­ca­tion of­fi­cer. Then it was an­nounced at the academy that the air force was look­ing for women to be­come pi­lots.

Fly­ing mis­sions

Farozi and 12 other women ap­plied, and she was the only one who passed the tests to en­ter train­ing. While she was train­ing at an air­field in the western prov­ince of Herat, she first met Capt Mo­ham­mad Jawad Na­jafi, the pi­lot who would later be­come her hus­band. They mar­ried nearly two years ago, and he has since backed her am­bi­tions. She grad­u­ated from train­ing in 2015. She gave birth to their first child, daugh­ter Ner­gis, now nearly 8 months old, and is back fly­ing mis­sions.

Farozi is one of only two fe­male pi­lots in the Afghan air force, but five other women are cur­rently go­ing through train­ing. In 2013, Capt Niloo­far Rah­mani be­came the coun­try’s first woman pi­lot in more than 30 years and the first to pi­lot fixed­wing air­craft - there were a few fe­male he­li­copter pi­lots dur­ing Soviet-backed rule in the 1980s. She is now in the United States train­ing on the far larger C-130 mil­i­tary trans­port craft. Ferozi says she hopes to in­spire other women.

“As a woman you face many chal­lenges, but you have to deal some­how with all those prob­lems,” she said. There are around 1,800 women serv­ing in Afghanistan’s 195,000mem­ber mil­i­tary, ac­cord­ing to Gen Mo­ham­mad Rad­man­ish, deputy De­fense Min­istry spokesman. The mil­i­tary, which is heav­ily backed by the US and NATO, is work­ing to bring the num­ber up to 10 per­cent of its ranks over the next seven years, he said.

Afghanistan’s small air force - just over 100 air­craft - re­ceived lit­tle at­ten­tion for years, but in 2015 NATO and the US be­gan fo­cus­ing on build­ing it up with in­creased train­ing and equip­ment. The force has at­tack he­li­copters and light at­tack planes that have been fly­ing com­bat mis­sions this year, though NATO mil­i­taries carry out the vast ma­jor­ity of strikes in the fight against in­sur­gents. The other ma­jor role for the air force is in emer­gency hu­man­i­tar­ian mis­sions, help­ing those hit by flood­ing, avalanches, land­slides or other dis­as­ters.

—AP

KABUL: In this Mon­day, Nov 21, 2016, photo, Capt Safia Ferozi, 26, sits in a C-208, a tur­bo­prop plane used as trans­port for the armed forces, be­fore a flight, at the Afghan mil­i­tary air­base.

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