The Taliban has been waging a brutal war against women for two decades, but at least a few women are literally preparing for battle. On September 30th, 2012, Lieutenant Nilofor Rhmani became the first female pilot in the Afghanistan air force to fly solo in a military Cessna 182. She flew under the air force’s new pilot training program, which is the first in the country in more than 30 years. The program is part of a joint project between NATO and the Afghan Ministry of Defense that offers pilot training at Afghanistan’s Shinhad Air Base. Lieutenant Rhmani is one of five Afghani women undergoing training within this framework.
The “New Guard”
According to U.S. Air Force Afghanistan Country Director Major Jeremy Ponn, Lieutenant Rhmani had “graduated introductory flight training on July 19 and began the formal undergraduate pilot training program July 28.” Furthermore, he described her recent achievement as “trying to even out the odds” against that of the Taliban instigating brutal treatments against women. Major Ponn added that Lieutenant Rhmani is seen by the Afghan public “as a role model for Afghan females.” She has already received awards for her achievements. Lieutenant Rhmani and her class are set to undergo additional training prior to receiving their wings and are expected to graduate next summer. (1)
Colonel Latifa Nabizada
The “Old Guard”
If Lieutenant Rhmani succeeds in completing her military training, she will join ranks with Colonel Latifa Nabizada – Nabizada is Afghanistan's only fully mission capable female Air Force pilot. Latifa and her sister, Lailuma, were the first female graduates of the Afghan Air force Academy in 1980. It was a challenging endeavor, but they graduated. Unfortunately, Lailuma later died in child-birth. When the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan in 1996, Latifa was forced to flee to neighboring Pakistan. She returned after the ouster of the Taliban and rejoined the air force. Her dedication and profound love of country led Colonel Latifa Nabizada down the unlikely road to becoming the Afghan Air Force's first female helicopter pilot. Initially, upon her return to the Afghan air force, she had an unlikely co-pilot. As there were no airbase child-care facilities, Latifa had to fly over 100 sorties with her daughter, Malalai joining her in the cockpit. Fortunately, her daughter has recently turned six and is now able to attend school. Latifa has flown hundreds of dangerous resupply missions in her MI-17 Hip helicopter. (2)
Much like Amelia Earhart motivated and inspired millions of women during the post-World War I era—when aviation and her exploits captured imaginations with new world records in flight—so these two women have both risen like a Phoenix from the ashes of Taliban rule and taken flight to inspire the women of Islam. Their success is a validation of the Afghan government’s forward progress to empower women. Latifa says that being a woman in the Afghan military is challenging and has toughened her. She is no longer harassed and cites an old Afghan saying that roughly translates as “steel gets harder with the hammering."