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  4. COMIC: I led an all-women military unit in Afghanistan. Here's what happened when Kabul fell.

COMIC: I led an all-women military unit in Afghanistan. Here's what happened when Kabul fell.

Sanya Anwar,Anthony Del Col,Josh Adams   

COMIC: I led an all-women military unit in Afghanistan. Here's what happened when Kabul fell.

The chaotic and abrupt withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan and subsequent Taliban takeover caused massive upheaval in the country, particularly among those who spent much of the previous two decades working alongside both Americans and the new government of Afghanistan.

The Female Tactical Platoon was formed by the army of Afghanistan to better communicate with women and children during missions and to serve as mediators and interlocutors in a country where the gender divide makes it difficult for all-male military units to communicate with civilian women.

Leading this unit was Mahnaz Akbari, and in this immersive comic, we follow her through the formation and training of the FTP, their missions alongside American forces, and the devastation and chaos of the fall of Kabul.

Afghanistan, 2013. Our job was to talk to the females and children in the home. We would say, “We are female. Don’t be scared. We just have some questions. We don’t want to harm you.” This little girl wouldn’t stop staring at me. She had never seen anyone like me. She lived at home, was never allowed out. “Are you female?” she asked. “Yes.”

Afghanistan, 2013. Our job was to talk to the females and children in the home. We would say, “We are female. Don’t be scared. We just have some questions. We don’t want to harm you.” This little girl wouldn’t stop staring at me. She had never seen anyone like me. She lived at home, was never allowed out. “Are you female?” she asked. “Yes.”

MISSION #1: “THE JACKPOT” November, 2012. Near Kunduz, Afghanistan. I was born in Afghanistan but my family moved to Iran as refugees. I taught there but there were no opportunities. We moved back to Afghanistan in 2011 when we could. I felt at home there finally. It was my place. I joined the military six months later. I was told about the FTP and enlisted. A special platoon created by the American and Afghan forces that would make communication with women and children easier during missions Nineteen of us signed up. Trained with the men. We were trained how to shoot, how to fast-rope, how to move. I liked it. It was hard, but also fun.

MISSION #1: “THE JACKPOT”  November, 2012. Near Kunduz, Afghanistan. I was born in Afghanistan but my family moved to Iran as refugees. I taught there but there were no opportunities. We moved back to Afghanistan in 2011 when we could. I felt at home there finally. It was my place. I joined the military six months later. I was told about the FTP and enlisted. A special platoon created by the American and Afghan forces that would make communication with women and children easier during missions Nineteen of us signed up. Trained with the men. We were trained how to shoot, how to fast-rope, how to move. I liked it. It was hard, but also fun.

This was my first mission. We had been training for five or six months before. The target was called “The Jackpot”. A Taliban terrorist. We were a little scared. I was the last person out. There was a lot of wind from the Chinook and it pushed me to the ground. When we started training, the men didn’t think we were strong enough. But we did the training the best. They started to believe we could do the missions. We did the Tactical Questions and helped find the target, The Jackpot.

This was my first mission. We had been training for five or six months before. The target was called “The Jackpot”. A Taliban terrorist. We were a little scared. I was the last person out. There was a lot of wind from the Chinook and it pushed me to the ground. When we started training, the men didn’t think we were strong enough. But we did the training the best.  They started to believe we could do the missions. We did the Tactical Questions and helped find the target, The Jackpot.

MISSION #2: “THE BODY” June, 2017. Near Jallal Abad, Afghanistan. We would train during the day. Lots of shooting, T.Q.. But when we were done, FTP would spend time together. We would drink tea with each other. We would talk. Put the music on and dance. We had freedom to spend with each other. We felt we were doing good. I became commander of FTP. Did what I could to protect the girls. And then one of our FTPs was shot in her neck. They didn’t see it coming. Didn’t see her weapon. They took her to the hospital. I stayed there with her.

MISSION #2: “THE BODY” June, 2017. Near Jallal Abad, Afghanistan. We would train during the day. Lots of shooting, T.Q..  But when we were done, FTP would spend time together. We would drink tea with each other. We would talk.  Put the music on and dance. We had freedom to spend with each other. We felt we were doing good. I became commander of FTP. Did what I could to protect the girls. And then one of our FTPs was shot in her neck. They didn’t see it coming. Didn’t see her weapon. They took her to the hospital. I stayed there with her.

Two days later they said we have a dangerous mission. “We need someone who speaks English.” The target was a high-ranking Daesh (ISIS). I was thinking about my friend. We were afraid she had died. There was a lot of shooting. I waited on the ground for one hour. Then they call us. “You need to come down.” I saw the American’s body. I didn’t know him, but I knew he was my colleague. It was really bad. That soldier was young. He had come over to our country to fight. The helicopters came. There was a lot of shooting. We went to the house and did a lot of T.Q. We got the target. Seventy-two Daesh died. And two Americans.

Two days later they said we have a dangerous mission. “We need someone who speaks English.” The target was a high-ranking Daesh (ISIS). I was thinking about my friend. We were afraid she had died. There was a lot of shooting. I waited on the ground for one hour. Then they call us. “You need to come down.” I saw the American’s body.  I didn’t know him, but I knew he was my colleague.  It was really bad. That soldier was young. He had come over to our country to fight. The helicopters came. There was a lot of shooting. We went to the house and did a lot of T.Q. We got the target. Seventy-two Daesh died. And two Americans.

“Are you female?” she asked. “Yes.” MISSION #3: “THE GIRL” February, 2015 Helmand and Hazaregan villages, Afghanistan. The girl asked me to give her something to remember me by. I had nothing but a pen and some peanuts. She said she would keep them forever. She told me we were in the wrong house. The man we’re looking for would be next door. We had a tough time figuring out who it was. So I went back to the girl and her family. They confirmed what the target looked like. And we got him.

“Are you female?” she asked. “Yes.” MISSION #3: “THE GIRL” February, 2015 Helmand and Hazaregan villages, Afghanistan. The girl asked me to give her something to remember me by. I had nothing but a pen and some peanuts. She said she would keep them forever. She told me we were in the wrong house. The man we’re looking for would be next door. We had a tough time figuring out who it was. So I went back to the girl and her family. They confirmed what the target looked like. And we got him.

MISSION #4: “THE WITHDRAWAL” August 15, 2021. Kabul, Afghanistan. We didn’t believe Afghanistan was going to fall. I received a phone call from a friend saying the U.S. closed their embassy. I looked out the window outside and it looked so gloomy. I felt something was missing. Our advisors called us and told me to be in front of the airport. My family was happy because I was bringing my nieces. I wished I could bring the rest, but it didn’t happen. If my nieces stayed in Kabul the situation would become so bad for them.

MISSION #4: “THE WITHDRAWAL” August 15, 2021. Kabul, Afghanistan. We didn’t believe Afghanistan was going to fall. I received a phone call from a friend saying the U.S. closed their embassy. I looked out the window outside and it looked so gloomy. I felt  something was missing. Our advisors called us and told me to be in front of the airport. My family was happy because I was bringing my nieces.  I wished I could bring the rest, but it didn’t happen. If my nieces stayed in Kabul the situation would become so bad for them.

They told us to be in front of the airport at 6am. It was so crowded. They tried to get us in but they couldn’t. Told us to come back at midnight. We FTP held hands but we disappeared in the crowd. I got onto the shoulders of one of the American soldiers and used a flashlight to look for FTP members. Members of the FTP were scared and crying. The first night 35 members and their families made it inside the airport. Three or four times I went inside the airport and went out to grab other members.

They told us to be in front of the airport at 6am. It was so crowded. They tried to get us in but they couldn’t. Told us to come back at midnight. We FTP held hands but we disappeared in the crowd. I got onto the shoulders of one of the American soldiers and used a flashlight to look for FTP members. Members of the FTP were scared and crying. The first night 35 members and their families made it inside the airport. Three or four times I went inside the airport and went out to grab other members.

I had traveled in cargo planes often. Every few months to visit FTP everywhere. When I saw I was going to take that plane I felt I hated that airplane for the first time. One of my nieces put her head on my shoulder. The other put theirs on my other shoulder. They were so sad. I wish there was another shoulder I could put my head on.

I had traveled in cargo planes often. Every few months to visit FTP everywhere. When I saw I was going to take that plane I felt I hated that airplane for the first time. One of my nieces put her head on my shoulder. The other put theirs on my other shoulder. They were so sad.  I wish there was another shoulder I could put my head on.

People love to live in the United States because of freedom. But for us it’s not like that. MISSION #5: “THE SURVIVAL” 2021 - 2023. United States. I live with my nieces. It’s just the three of us. We’re scared for our families and the FTP that weren’t able to come. We watch television. I read poems mainly from Roumi. And sometimes go to the playground with American friends. The FTP that are here are all around the country. We’re trying to get proper asylum but there’s no guarantee. I sometimes meet up with FTP. We try to stay in touch. It’s a weird feeling to be in a good situation but at the same time know something worse is happening at home.

People love to live in the United States because of freedom. But for us it’s not like that. MISSION #5: “THE SURVIVAL” 2021 - 2023. United States. I live with my nieces. It’s just the three of us. We’re scared for our families and the FTP that weren’t able to come. We watch television. I read poems mainly from Roumi. And sometimes go to the playground with American friends. The FTP that are here are all around the country.  We’re trying to get proper asylum but there’s no guarantee. I sometimes meet up with FTP. We try to stay in touch. It’s a weird feeling to be in a good situation but at the same time know something worse is happening at home.

We have a chat group with the FTPs in Afghanistan. They’re safe, but not very good. They’re hiding. They can’t make any attention. They can’t go outside. They don’t have jobs. One of the FTP got a lot of messages that they were going to kill her. “We know where you live. We will come and find you.” She hid somewhere. We didn’t know where. We were worried that they had gotten her. Then one day she messaged us.“I’m in Pakistan.”

We have a chat group with the FTPs in Afghanistan. They’re safe, but not very good. They’re hiding. They can’t make any attention. They can’t go outside. They don’t have jobs. One of the FTP got a lot of messages that they were going to kill her. “We know where you live. We will come and find you.” She hid somewhere. We didn’t know where. We were worried that they had gotten her. Then one day she messaged us.“I’m in Pakistan.”

I wanted to continue with FTP and make it bigger. Show people that females can do everything. Over the course of twenty years females in Afghanistan learned a lot of things. We learned we have the right to get a job. The right to go to school. But the Taliban came in. Afghanistan, the soil, is my country.: But the government today isn’t. Going back to Afghanistan is dangerous. But I will go back. I want to start an orphanage. Some day. Not now. But I will find some way some time. Of the 100 members of FTP, 39 reside in the United States They are still on temporary visas, which expire in 2025. Between 2001 and 2018 the number of girls in Afghanistan enrolled in primary school increased from zero to 2.5 million. Since September, 2021 most of them are now banned from school. In December, 2022 all university education for women was suspended.

I wanted to continue with FTP and make it bigger. Show people that females can do everything. Over the course of twenty years females in Afghanistan learned a lot of things. We learned we have the right to get a job. The right to go to school. But the Taliban came in. Afghanistan, the soil, is my country.: But the government today isn’t. Going back to Afghanistan is dangerous. But I will go back. I want to start an orphanage. Some day. Not now. But I will find some way some time. Of the 100 members of FTP, 39 reside in the United States They are still on temporary visas, which expire in 2025. Between 2001 and 2018 the number of girls in Afghanistan enrolled in primary school increased from zero to 2.5 million. Since September, 2021 most of them are now banned from school. In December, 2022 all university education for women was suspended.

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