She’s over 80… and fight­ing ex­trem­ists

The Star Early Edition - - WORLD -

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.

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