Last year, I was able to travel to the Af-Pak region. My visit there reaffirmed my belief that Afghanistan is not a threat to the United States and we must accelerate our withdrawal from the region. More than 2,100 Americans have lost their lives in the decade that the United States has been mired in what is now a tribal conflict.
Our military has undertaken a valiant fight to do what we have asked them to do. Osama bin Laden is dead and there are fewer than 50 al Qaeda operating along the border with Pakistan. Ultimately, Afghanistan’s future will be determined by Afghans, not Americans.
As we finally begin to wind down our troop presence in Afghanistan, we are providing support to the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) – made up by the Police and Military – to ensure that the ANSF can take over the responsibility of protecting the safety of the Afghan people.
Last week, the House Appropriations Committee approved the Defense Appropriations Bill for Fiscal Year 2014. This bill funds all operations within the Defense Department, including personnel, training and weapons systems, and military involvement overseas. Among these overseas priorities, we voted 24 to 22 in support of an amendment I offered to direct $47.3 million from the $7.8 billion Afghanistan National Security Fund to be used for the recruitment and retention of women.
Women comprise 50 percent of the population in Afghanistan, yet make up less than one percent of the overall security force. Though the Afghan National Police has a target recruitment goal of 5,000 women serving by the end of 2014, it is falling far behind. There are presently only 1,500 women in the Afghan National Police.
Adding more women to the ANSF will not only promote more equal treatment of women, but it would allow for better security as we draw down our troops in Afghanistan.
In Afghan culture, men cannot conduct security body searches of women, or even security checks of homes that have a female present. Terrorists are taking advantage of this vulnerability, using women for terror operations to deliver messages and smuggle weapons. They are hiding weapons in female homes, and even dressing as women to avoid searches. In 2012, there were more than 13 incidents where male insurgents dressed as women to smuggle illicit goods or gain entry into areas from where they proceeded to launch attacks.
Further, cultural norms limit and even prohibit communication between unrelated men and women, making it very difficult for women who have been a victim of a crime to report it to male police officers. According to the Institute for Inclusive Security, Afghan women are frequently blamed for gender or sexual-based violence when reporting to male officers.
Increasing the number of women in positions of authority within the Afghan National Security structure can have a huge impact on the lives of women there. It could mean training and equipment tailored for the needs of women, facilities like prayer rooms and bathrooms specifically dedicated for women on-base. Most importantly, with more women in the ANSF, they could be provided with on-post housing and childcare facilities.
The inclusion of my amendment to recruit more women to ANSF not only promotes equal treatment of women, it matches our national security interests. Reducing institutional barriers will put Afghanistan on solid footing as the U.S. reduces our presence, making the country safer and more secure for its citizens.