With U.S. preparing for the withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan, there has been much talk of that nation taking responsibility for its own national security. And while many have envisioned that American and NATO forces would be turning over power to Afghanistan police and military men, few could have pictured this.
According to The Associated Press, four Afghani women are staying at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio training to become pilots in the Afghan Air Force. Given the societal constraints for women in their country, that all four women are 20-somethings truly makes this story even more incredible. Currently, the women are part of the 125 of women at Lackland’s Defense Language Institute, which teaches English to soldiers from other countries.
According to AP:
They’ll stay in Texas until they master English — the international language for aviation — and are scheduled to transfer to Alabama early next year for actual hands-on piloting.
By September 2012, the women could have their wings.
Afghanistan is set to nearly triple its aircraft by 2016. The women are being trained on Mi-17 helicopters, which represent the bulk of the country’s current stable of aircraft. The Afghan Air Force also has 11 two-engine cargo planes and nine Mi-35 attack helicopters.
The Afghan Air Force is being built to support the Afghan National Army, not to defend Afghan air space.
So far, the Afghan Air Force has approximately 4,700 members and more than 50 aircrafts. According to British Royal Air Force Group Capt. Adrian Hill, deputy commander of the NATO Air Training Command-Afghanistan, the US is among 14 nations working to get the Air Force to be self-operational by 2016.
Hill has had nothing but good words about the four women future pilots. The women graduated with 31 males, and for months outcompeted them. Eventually, the men got themselves together and worked to catch up. Speaking to the AP, Hill said of the women:
“They are very brave. Their families are all for it…Their families are strongly behind them. In a society like (theirs), if they didn’t have the sponsorship of their families, they wouldn’t be here.”
Second Lt. Mary Sharifzada, one of the four women training to become pilots, said of the journey:
“In Afghanistan, I think (it’s been) 32 or 33 years of war. The women of Afghanistan couldn’t do anything on that time. Now we should show that we are strong and we can serve our country.”