KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan’s army got its first female officers in decades on Thursday when 29 women graduated in a class of new recruits who hope to help take the lead role in national security from foreign forces by 2014.
President Hamid Karzai, NATO and the United States have been pushing to expand and train Afghanistan’s army, police and other security forces to allow them to take over during a planned drawdown of foreign troops.
The United States has said it will start its withdrawal in July 2011, although the process may take years.
“I am fully committed to serving my country, the same way as my Afghan brothers currently serving in the army. That is why I decided to join,” said female officer Mari Sharifi after the graduation ceremony at the Kabul Army Training Centre.
The women will not be sent to the frontline of the fight against the insurgency, which is raging at its strongest since the 2001 overthrow of the Taliban government, and instead will largely be doing administrative work.
Women served in the army of Afghanistan’s communist-backed regime in the 1980s but retreated from military service during the civil war and hardline Taliban rule that followed the Soviet retreat from Afghanistan in 1989.
The British officer who oversaw their training said all the new recruits were good and enthusiastic soldiers.
“(They are) all keen as mustard to join the Afghan National Army, and I think you will have seen today a very professional display — and that is the bottom line,” said General David Peterson, Commander of the Army Training Centre.
Afghanistan’s armed forces and police number roughly 300,000, serving alongside about 150,000 foreign troops.
Reporting by Akram Walizada; Writing by Emma Graham-Harrison; Editing by Paul Tait