The Obama administration has announced that the United States will continue to support the Afghan National Security Forces through 2020.

Richard Olson, the U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, confirmed Tuesday that the President has asked Congress for $3 billion with the intention of keeping 9,800 troops in Afghanistan for the remainder of the year. After years of trying to move towards a troop withdrawal, the President has recognized the continued threat the Taliban poses to the stability and people of Afghanistan, especially women.

The Obama administration’s announcement comes in the wake of the Taliban’s resurgent effort to roll back the advances achieved by Afghan women. In recent years, the Taliban has gained control of territory, predominantly in the south, just as ISIS also makes an attempt to move in on the struggling country.

When the Taliban first took control of Afghanistan in 1996, they instituted a number of strict edicts aimed at establishing a totalitarian dictatorship and gender apartheid. Women were banished from the workforce, forbidden from leaving their home without male supervision, and denied access to education. The punishment for many of these oppressive regulations included public beatings, whippings and execution.

Following the Taliban’s coming to power, the Feminist Majority Foundation launched the Stop Gender Apartheid movement to advocate for the rights of women and girls in Afghanistan. Since the U.S. intervention, FMF’s Campaign for Afghan Women and Girls has promoted gender equality and urged the United States government to maintain a presence in the region so as to not roll back the gains made for women and girls.

“Afghan women and girls have come too far to have their rights and opportunities stolen away now,” said Feminist Majority Foundation President Eleanor Smeal. “If the Taliban is allowed to return, too many of the women and girls who have achieved an education and leadership positions will be killed. The United States has a moral obligation and humanitarian duty to stand with the women of Afghanistan.”

In 2001, only five thousand Afghan girls went to school. That number has now risen to 3.5 million.  Today, nearly a quarter of the students enrolled in higher education are women. For the first time many women have access to microfinance loans, allowing them to develop their own small businesses and gain even greater independence. Women make up 35 percent of positions in the provincial government, 28 percent of the seats in the House of People, and 30 percent of bureaucratic government positions. In 2014, the country appointed its first female police chief to a prominent Kabul station, and there are over 1,300 female police officers in the country.

Today, many women in Afghanistan fear that a decreasing American influence in the region will lead to resurgence in Taliban authority. Already many Afghans are fleeing the uncertain threat of violence and the limited economic opportunity; one-quarter of the more than one million refugees who fled to Europe in 2015 were from Afghanistan, the second largest population after Syrians.

NATO forces have agreed to support the administrations initiative through 2020. The President has lauded this move as an integral support to both the Afghan Security Forces and America’s national security agenda.

Media Resources: Washington Times 6/21/16; Feminist Majority Foundation 2015, 3/5/15;  US News 6/15/16; BBC 3/16; LA Times 3/17/16; Afghan Women’s Writing Project 2/15/16

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