She’s over 80… and fighting extremists
LONDON: Gul Bibi, an Afghan grandmother well into her eighties, never expected to become a fighter.
But now she is one of more than 100 women in Afghanistan’s northern Jawzjan province who have taken up arms against Islamist militants.
Nearly all of the women have lost a husband, son or brother to the Taliban or Islamic State in the province bordering Turkmenistan.
“I lost nine members of my family. The Taliban and Daesh (Islamic State) killed my five sons and four nephews,” Bibi said by phone from Jawzjan. “I have taken up arms to defeat the terrorists so other people’s sons won’t get killed.”
Determined to protect their families, the women approached a local police commander, Sher Ali, in December and asked him for guns and ammunition.
“They came to me and said that if I didn’t provide them with weapons they would kill themselves – before Daesh or the Taliban could,” Ali said, using the Arabic acronym for Islamic State (IS).
The women are not a properly structured group, he said; they have no uniform and have not received any military training other than how to point a gun at the enemy and shoot.
The Taliban has carried out attacks in Jawzjan for the past decade, part of a country-wide insurgency to topple the Afghan government and drive out foreign troops.
IS became active in the province – a gateway to Central Asia – in early 2016, when a Taliban commander and 50 of his fighters declared allegiance to the ultra-hardline group, said Mohammad Reza Ghafoori, spokesman for the governor of Jawzjan. On December 25, IS fighters attacked Garmjar village.
The jihadists killed five civilians, burnt down about 60 houses and forced 150 families to flee, Ghafoori said.
A woman in her twenties, who did not want to give her name, said her husband and many other family members had been killed by the Taliban. Now she is fighting back, she said.
“I hit the Taliban with this PK (machine gun), and the Taliban fled. Most of the their men died. I will stand against Daesh and will hit them too,” she said by phone from Jawzjan.
Abdul Hafiz Khashi, head of the security department of Jawzjan police, was reported as saying in the Afghan media last week that although local police have cautiously welcomed the new defence force, he said, the rag-tag women’s unit has raised concerns among higher authorities.
“We do not support any armed group, unless they come under one of our forces,” Najib Danish, the deputy spokesman for the Afghan Interior Ministry, said from Kabul.
“We hope they join the Afghan security forces, so we can help them as part of our troops,” he said.
But the women accuse the Afghan army of failing to protect their families from the militants.
“First they killed my brother, then they killed my cousin, my uncle and my brother-in-law,” said Zarmina, another woman fighter.
“Now that I have taken up arms, I am going to fight to the death,” she said.
Thousands of civilians have been killed in Afghanistan in violence since the Taliban government was brought down in the US-led campaign of 2001.