Afghanistan’s first crop of female military pilots arrived for training this week, where they will first study English at the Defense Language Institute at Lackland. Dozens of male Afghan pilots have gone through similar training in the United States.
After six to eight months of language study, they will travel to Fort Rucker in Alabama for helicopter pilot training in the U.S. Army “Thunder Lab” program.
“What a great day this is,” said Col. Eric Axelbank, Commander of the 37th Training Wing, which oversees U.S. Air Force basic training at Lackland. “This is a huge step, having female officers who will become pilots in a traditionally male dominated field.”
Since the Taliban government was toppled by U.S.- backed Afghan forces in 2001, women in Afghanistan have won back basic rights in education, voting and work, which the militant group considered un-Islamic.
But they face an uncertain future as Afghan and foreign leaders have embraced the idea of seeking a negotiated end to ten years of war, through talks with the Taliban. Some analysts warn that could mean a step back for women’s rights.
The women pilots will be among about 1,200 students at the Institute, where students from around the world learn English – the global vernacular of aviation.
The Afghan women will undergo the same course of study in the United States as have male Afghan pilots, along with thousands of other military personnel who have trained at Lackland over the decades.
In Texas, the women will not only learn English, but also U.S. military history and American culture.
‘Gender integration’ was a key part of the role that the women will play when they return to Afghanistan.