In an attempt to curry favor with local Afghan women, female Marines are being sent to Helmand Province next month. Approximately 40 women will convoy with patrols in order to meet local women. One thing most Marines never thought they would hear in their time in the Corps: wear your pony tail out of the back of your helmet. Yet, this is one thing the female soldiers were told during a cultural awareness exercise last month.
These women will be the military’s first “female engagement teams.” The reason for using women in this role is because the Afghan women are off limits to outside men, so there is no contact between the two groups. The women plan on meeting with the Afghan women in their homes for two purposes:
- To evaluate their need for aid; and
- To gather intelligence.
Half of the women have been previously deployed to Iraq so they have an idea of what to expect. After getting permission from the village male elder, the women will move from house to house engaging the women in the homes. Once inside, they will:
- Hand out school supplies;
- Hand out medicine;
- Drink tea;
- Have conversation; and
- Gain information about the village to include local grievances and the Taliban.
Women make up only 6% of the Marine Corps and are still prevented from combat branches of the military. This ban doesn’t always work in the military’s favor though. Therefore, these women will be “attached” to the combat units from which they are otherwise banned.
While female engagement teams have been put together on an as-needed basis in the past, this group of women is the first to be specifically trained for this type of mission. While they will patrol with rifles, once they have been given permission to enter the villages, and with Marines posted on the outside, they will remove their rifles and battle gear.
In the past, the hastily constructed female engagement teams have reported that these rural Afghan women have much more influence than previously believed. The more contact U.S. troops have with them the less likely these villages are going to fear U.S. troops. Furthermore, the rural Afghan women have extreme insight into the social structure inner-activities of the villages.
For right now, nobody knows how this mission will pan out. Even if no critical intelligence is gained, if these rural villages are less intimidated and frightened of the presence of U.S. troops after these meetings, that could be considered a victory and a great first step.
Learn more about the female engagement teams being used in Iraq.