Women have taken up arms in heavily-contested regions of Afghanistan as the Taliban continues to make nationwide gains during the US military’s withdrawal.
The US continued its drawdown of troops, keeping to President Biden’s promised deadline, which aims for a full withdrawal by Sept. 11 – a date he said Thursday would now be Aug. 31. However, Afghanistan has already struggled to stand on its own.
Government forces have already withdrawn from seven districts, focusing troops and resources around holding the capital province of Badakhshan.
In response, hundreds of women have taken to the streets carrying guns and protesting the Taliban, The Guardian reported.
“There were some women who just wanted to inspire security forces, just symbolic, but many more were ready to go to the battlefields,” said Halima Parastish, head of the women’s directorate in Ghor. “That includes myself.”
“I and some other women told the governor around a month ago that we’re ready to go and fight,” Parastish said.
The Taliban have already introduced severe restrictions against women’s rights in areas they control, including education, freedom of movement and attire, activists and residents claim.
Women have joined the country’s security forces over the past two decades, including training as helicopters pilots, though they face similar discrimination that exists in other countries preventing women from serving on the frontlines.
Abdulzahir Faizzada, the Ghor provincial governor, told The Guardian that some of the women protesting the Taliban have already engaged them in battle and endured violence at their hands.
“The majority of these women were those who had recently escaped from Taliban areas,” Faizzada said. “They have already been through war in their villages, they lost their sons and brothers, they are angry.”
Faizzada supports efforts to train women lacking experience with weapons, but only if the government in Kabul approved it.
Former President George W. Bush warned in April that the decision to withdraw troops from the country would provide opportunities to the Taliban that he hoped the US would not come to regret.
“My first reaction was, wow, these girls are going to have real trouble with the Taliban,” Bush said. “A lot of gains have been made and so I’m deeply concerned about the plight of women and girls in that country.”
He added: “I think the administration hopes that the girls are going be OK through diplomacy. We’ll find out. All I know is the Taliban, when they had the run of the place, they were brutal.”
Former President Donald Trump initiated a plan to withdraw US troops from the country, intending to complete the withdrawal of all regular troops by May 2021. President Biden changed that timeline when he took office.
The decision has drawn bipartisan criticism, with proponents saying the withdrawal will only increase the problems within the country. Former Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai claimed that extremism is at its “highest point” ahead of the planned drawdown of US forces from his country and that the US had failed to live up to its promises.