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They fought alongside the U.S. — now this female Afghan military platoon is in limbo

The special Afghan unit would deploy with U.S. troops and speak with women and children.
Behrouz Mehri
/
AFP via Getty Images
The special Afghan unit would deploy with U.S. troops and speak with women and children.

This story is part of NPR's Main Character of the Day series, where we spotlight the people and things worth talking about — and the stories behind them.


After serving alongside the U.S., an all-female Afghan military platoon is in immigration limbo.

Who are they? The Afghan military's Female Tactical Platoon — a unit deployed with U.S. and Afghan special forces to collect intelligence from women and children.

  • After the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021, members of the platoon came to America under a temporary humanitarian program.
  • In parts of Afghanistan, it's culturally inappropriate for male soldiers to talk to women and children. While accompanying U.S. forces on raids, the Female Tactical Platoon questioned women and children, looking for the locations of Taliban targets and weapons caches. 
  • After Afghanistan fell to the Taliban in August 2021, members of the platoon joined the tens of thousands of Afghans who evacuated to the U.S.
  • Many are in the U.S. on humanitarian parole, a temporary program set to expire this summer. 
  • Families begin to board a U.S. Air Force Boeing C-17 Globemaster III during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul in August 2021.
    Sgt. Samuel Ruiz / AP
    /
    AP
    Families begin to board a U.S. Air Force Boeing C-17 Globemaster III during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul in August 2021.

    What's the big deal? Members of the Female Tactical Platoon are struggling to obtain permanent residence in the U.S. And after serving alongside U.S. forces for more than a decade, many have nowhere left to go.

  • Afghans who aided the U.S. military can't go back to Afghanistan, fearing retribution from the Taliban, says former commander of the Female Tactical Platoon, Mahnaz Akbari. She told All Things Considered her soldiers would be in even greater danger as women.
  • Since the evacuation, many Afghan allies were separated from their families. Platoon members whose families weren't able to evacuate are also in danger, Akbari says: "Now it's really dangerous for our families because they allowed us to work for the U.S. military  ... two or three [platoon members], the Taliban captured their brothers and tortured them."

  • Listen to the full All Things Considered conversation with Mahnaz Akbari by tapping the play button at the top.


    What's next? Congress has been working on a solution for the tens of thousands of Afghans who face immigration uncertainty.

  • Last year, Congress blocked the Afghan Adjustment Act, a bill that would have created a legal path to permanent residence for Afghans. The bill has been reintroduced this year.
  • Critics arefrustrated with how long it's taken for the U.S. to process special visas for Afghan evacuees, accusing the U.S. of treating Ukrainian and Afghan refugees differently. 
  • Veterans group Sisters of Service has helped resettle members of the Female Tactical Platoon, offering mentorship to help them adjust to life in the U.S. But without permanent residence, Akbari says finding good jobs is difficult: "It's important for me, the Afghan Adjustment Act, because I want to join the U.S. military ... But because I don't have permanent status, I can't do that. It's the same for the other [platoon members]."
  • Learn more

  • From Kabul to Virginia: An Afghan family is starting over in America
  • A Look At Afghanistan's 40 Years Of Crisis — From The Soviet War To Taliban Recapture
  • How a suicide bombing in Pakistan shows spillover effect from Taliban's Afghanistan
  • Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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    Kai McNamee