Women in Afghan army overcome opposition, threats

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The brave women of the Afghan army
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The brave women of the Afghan army
Zarmina Ahmadi, 22, a female soldier from the Afghan National Army (ANA) aims her rifle during a military exercise at the Kabul Military Training Centre (KMTC) in Kabul, Afghanistan October 26, 2016. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail SEARCH "KABUL TRAINING" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Female soldiers from the Afghan National Army (ANA) take part in a training exercise at the Kabul Military Training Centre (KMTC) in Kabul, Afghanistan October 26, 2016. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail SEARCH "KABUL TRAINING" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A female soldier from Afghan National Army (ANA) loads ammunition into a rifle magazine before a shooting exercise at the Kabul Military Training Centre (KMTC) in Kabul, Afghanistan October 26, 2016. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail SEARCH "KABUL TRAINING" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Female Afghan soldiers Shreen Yawari, 24 (L), Zarmina Ahmadi, 22 (2nd L), Fatima Alimi, 21 (3nd L), and Zahra Sultani, 20 (R), rest after shooting exercises at the Kabul Military Training Centre (KMTC) in Kabul, Afghanistan, October 26, 2016. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail SEARCH "KABUL TRAINING" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers carry their colleague, with a simulated injury, into an ambulance during a training exercise at the Kabul Military Training Centre (KMTC) in Kabul, Afghanistan October 26, 2016. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail SEARCH "KABUL TRAINING" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Sabera, 23, a soldier from the Afghan National Army (ANA) gestures during a shooting exercise at the Kabul Military Training Centre (KMTC) in Kabul, Afghanistan October 26, 2016. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail SEARCH "KABUL TRAINING" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers attend a lesson in a classroom at the Kabul Military Training Centre (KMTC) in Kabul, Afghanistan October 23, 2016. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail SEARCH "KABUL TRAINING" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Female soldiers from the Afghan National Army (ANA) attend a lesson in a classroom at the Kabul Military Training Centre (KMTC) in Kabul, Afghanistan October 23, 2016. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail SEARCH "KABUL TRAINING" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Zarmina Ahmadi, 22, a female soldier from the Afghan National Army (ANA) looks out from a bus window at the Kabul Military Training Centre (KMTC) in Kabul, Afghanistan October 26, 2016. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail SEARCH "KABUL TRAINING" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
First Lieutenant for the Afghan National Army (ANA), Zainab Baqiri Shayan, 24, speaks with her colleagues in the radio operating department at the Ministry of Defence in Kabul, Afghanistan, October 31, 2016. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail SEARCH "KABUL TRAINING" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Female soldiers Mohazama Najebi, 18 (R), and Sahar Ibrahimi, 25 (L), from the Afghan National Army (ANA) pose for a picture after shooting exercises at the Kabul Military Training Centre (KMTC) in Kabul, Afghanistan October 26, 2016. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail SEARCH "KABUL TRAINING" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Second Lieutenant Roshan Gul, 22 (L), First Lieutenant Nelofar Frotan, 23 (C), and Second Lieutenant Morsal Afshar, 22 (R), work at the human resources office in the Ministry of Defence in Kabul, Afghanistan October 31, 2016. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail SEARCH "KABUL TRAINING" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Model soldiers are seen, in a class at the Kabul Military Training Centre (KMTC) in Kabul, Afghanistan October 23, 2016. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail SEARCH "KABUL TRAINING" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
First Lieutenant in the Afghan National Army (ANA), Zainab Baqiri Shayan, 24, poses for a picture at her radio operating desk in the Ministry of Defence in Kabul, Afghanistan, October 31, 2016. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail SEARCH "KABUL TRAINING" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Female soldiers from the Afghan National Army (ANA) play volleyball at the Kabul Military Training Centre (KMTC) in Kabul, Afghanistan, October 23, 2016. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail SEARCH "KABUL TRAINING" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Female soldier, Parwana Naji, 19, from the Afghan National Army (ANA) at the gym at the Kabul Military Training Centre (KMTC) in Kabul, Afghanistan, October 23, 2016. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail SEARCH "KABUL TRAINING" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Female soldiers Karima Mohamadi, 21 (L), and Tamana, 19 (R), from the Afghan National Army (ANA) clean their weapons at the Kabul Military Training Centre (KMTC) in Kabul, Afghanistan October 26, 2016. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail SEARCH "KABUL TRAINING" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Female soldier Mohazama Najebi, 18, from the Afghan National Army (ANA), prays inside a mosque at the Kabul Military Training Centre (KMTC) in Kabul, Afghanistan, October 26, 2016. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail SEARCH "KABUL TRAINING" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Female soldiers Zarmina Ahmadi, 22 (L), Adela Haidari, 23 (C), and Sabera, 21 (R), from the Afghan National Army (ANA) rest in their barracks at the Kabul Military Training Centre (KMTC) in Kabul, Afghanistan October 26, 2016. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail SEARCH "KABUL TRAINING" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A female soldier from the Afghan National Army (ANA), Fatima Zahra Akbari, 19, waits for her turn to receive a weapon before shooting exercises at the Kabul Military Training Centre (KMTC) in Kabul, Afghanistan October 26, 2016. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail SEARCH "KABUL TRAINING" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Fatima Rezai, 21, a female officer from the Afghan National Army (ANA) practices with a punch bag during an exercise session at at the Kabul Military Training Centre (KMTC) in Kabul, Afghanistan October 23, 2016. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail SEARCH "KABUL TRAINING" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers collect their lunch at the Kabul Military Training Centre (KMTC) in Kabul, Afghanistan October 23, 2016. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail SEARCH "KABUL TRAINING" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Female soldiers from the Afghan National Army (ANA) wait to get food at the Kabul Military Training Centre (KMTC) in Kabul, Afghanistan October 23, 2016. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail SEARCH "KABUL TRAINING" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Female soldier Aghama Dehqanyar, 19 (L), prays inside a mosque at the Kabul Military Training Centre (KMTC) in Kabul, Afghanistan October 26, 2016. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail SEARCH "KABUL TRAINING" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Commander of female soldiers, Lieutenant Colonel Cobra Tanha, 45, stands in front of her soldiers at the Kabul Military Training Centre (KMTC) in Kabul, Afghanistan, October 23, 2016. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail SEARCH "KABUL TRAINING" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Afghan soldier Tamana, 19 (L), and commander for female soldiers Lieutenant Colonel Cobra Tanha, 45 (R), simulate an injury during a training exercise at the Kabul Military Training Centre (KMTC) in Kabul, Afghanistan October 26, 2016. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail SEARCH "KABUL TRAINING" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Commander for female Afghan soldiers Lieutenant Colonel Cobra Tanha, 45, leaves her office at the Kabul Military Training Centre (KMTC) in Kabul, Afghanistan October 23, 2016. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail SEARCH "KABUL TRAINING" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
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KABUL (Reuters) - Kabul's military training academy is churning out classes of enthusiastic women to serve in Afghanistan's army, but the realities of rising violence and a conservative society make the future for the young recruits far from certain.

Some of the nearly 150 women training to be officers in the latest class say they feel proud to be part of the effort to secure the country, still racked by an insurgency by the Taliban and other militants to topple the Western-backed government.

"I decided to join the army to save the lives of my people and to defend ourselves," said Sakina Jafari, 21, adding that she believed her service set an example.

"This encourages other girls to join the army's ranks."

SEE ALSO: Held in bonded labor, Afghan returnee children make bricks for a living

Afghanistan is one of the hardest places in the world to be a woman, according to the United Nations, despite years of pressure by women's groups and international donors.

Women and men train separately at the base on the outskirts of the capital, but officers say the training is similar, and includes physical education, firearms, tactics and medical care.

Unlike many Afghans, all the women who graduate from the academy are literate and will go into one of several non-combat roles, including management, human resources, logistics, radio operations, or intelligence, said Lieutenant Colonel Cobra Tanha, a 28-year military veteran.

Some, however, may go on to assist Afghan special forces with missions like night raids, which often require women to help with culturally sensitive searches of homes, she said.

The United States, which has about 7,000 troops in Afghanistan as part of a NATO-led mission to help advise and train Afghan forces, has budgeted at least $93.5 million in 2016 to try to increase the number of women in the military.

Despite years of investment, the Afghan army fields less than 900 women soldiers, far fewer than the goal of 5,000, according to the U.S. government's Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR).

Hasina Hakimi, 19, said she could not return to her home province because of Taliban threats, and many women report facing challenges within the army itself.

Women working in public positions are controversial in Afghanistan. Last year, nearly 60 percent of Afghans surveyed by the Asia Foundation said they did not consider it acceptable for women to work in the army or police.

Even after joining, women may find obstacles to jobs and being promoted in the military, SIGAR reported.

NATO trainers found that common reasons women cited for leaving the security forces were "opposition from male relatives, problems with male colleagues, low pay, family obligations, lack of promotion or meaningful assignment opportunities, and a lack of training and security", according to SIGAR.

Those difficulties were confirmed by Benafsha Sarwari, a 20-year-old teacher at the Kabul academy, who nevertheless expressed determination to keep serving.

"I have experienced many challenges," she said. "We live in a conservative society and most people are pessimistic about the women who work outside. But we must not give up. We have to overcome the challenges and perform our duties."

Learn more about the women:

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