Armed Afghan women take to streets in show of defiance against Taliban

Women have taken up guns in northern and central Afghanistan, marching in the streets in their hundreds and sharing pictures of themselves with assault rifles on social media, in a show of defiance as the Taliban make sweeping gains nationwide.

One of the biggest demonstrations was in central Ghor province, where hundreds of women turned out at the weekend, waving guns and chanting anti-Taliban slogans.

They are not likely to head to the frontlines in large numbers any time soon, because of both social conservatism and lack of experience, but the public demonstrations are a reminder of how frightened many women are about what Taliban rule could mean for them and their families.

“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, the head of the women’s directorate in Ghor and one of the marchers. “That includes myself. I and some other women told the governor around a month ago that we’re ready to go and fight.”

The Taliban have been sweeping across rural Afghanistan, taking dozens of districts including in places such as northern Badakhshan province, which 20 years ago was an anti-Taliban stronghold. They now have multiple provincial capitals in effect under siege.

Women take part in a protest in Ghor
It is rare, but not unprecedented, for Afghan women to take up arms, particularly in slightly less conservative parts of the country. Photograph: Facebook

In areas they control, the Taliban have already brought in restrictions on women’s education, their freedom of movement and their clothing, activists and residents of those areas say. In one area, flyers were circulating demanding that women put on burqas.

Clashes between government security forces and the Taliban have been ongoing since Wednesday in several parts of Qala-e-Naw, capital of the western province of Badghis.

The fighting is close to the police HQ building, military base, and the National Directorate of Security (NDS) department in the city, the source said.

The clash started on Wednesday after the Taliban attacked several parts of the city and fought with security forces.

After the initial attack, Hasamuddin Shams, the provincial governor, said that the Taliban had been pushed back by special forces and local troops and a “clearing operation is underway.”

Ziauddin Akazi, an MP from Badghis, said that the Taliban resumed their attacks on the city on Thursday and urged the central government for reinforcements.

He is also concerned about the civilian situation in the city.

However, the Ministry of Defense on Thursday morning issued a statement saying that “a large number of Afghan commandos have arrived on Wednesday night in Qala-e-Naw and clearing operations are ongoing.”

The ministry also said that “at least 69 Taliban were killed and 23 others were wounded during Wednesday’s airstrike in several parts of Qala-e-Naw.”

There are no reports of casualties of security forces and civilians.

U.S. General Austin Scott Miller is directing the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan, fulfilling President Joe Biden’s promise to end the 20-year engagement in the longest war that the United States has ever fought.

United States combat forces are scheduled to be withdrawn from Afghanistan by September 2021. U.S. forces invaded and occupied the country in 2001 following the September 11 attacks, with the resulting war becoming the U.S.’ longest military engagement.

The Trump administration agreed on February 29, 2020, to a peace agreement with the Taliban, with provisions including the withdrawal of all regular American and NATO troops from Afghanistan, a Taliban pledge to prevent al-Qaeda from operating in areas under their control, and talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government. The deal was supported by Pakistan, Russia, and China, and unanimously endorsed by the UN Security Council.

The Taliban, who refer to themselves as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, enforced a strict interpretation of Sharia law from 1996 to 2001, when the group held control of most of the country until it was overthrown by the American-led invasion of Afghanistan in December 2001 following the September 11 attacks.

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