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Members of an female Afghan military platoon now face uncertain fate in the U.S.

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

Today is the last day of July 2023, which puts us at almost two years since Afghanistan fell to the Taliban. That led to a large-scale evacuation of U.S. forces and Afghan allies. And tens of thousands of those Afghans fled to the U.S. under a humanitarian parole program. But that's a temporary measure that expires this summer, and that means many Afghans who served alongside U.S. soldiers are in immigration limbo. Mahnaz Akbari was among those evacuated. She was the commander of the Afghan military's Female Tactical Platoon, or FTP for short. And she's been living in the U.S. for the last two years but isn't sure how much longer that can last. She's with me in the studio now. Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

MAHNAZ AKBARI: Thank you so much.

PFEIFFER: I think many people would be surprised to learn that there is a Female Tactical Platoon in the Afghan military, particularly with the conservatism towards women in Afghanistan. Tell us about that platoon.

AKBARI: In 2010 or '11, when the American military, they were doing, like, night missions or night raids, our job was to, like, go to Taliban's and (inaudible) leaders' houses. And so in those houses, there are, like, female and children in those houses. And so culturally, it was inappropriate for them to search and asking questions from female and children.

PFEIFFER: It was culturally inappropriate for men to be asking questions of women and children. Is that right?

AKBARI: Yes. And we went to their houses and gather all the intelligence from them.

PFEIFFER: Do you assume they didn't know what you were actually trying to get at or did they understand why you were there?

AKBARI: They - absolutely they understand that - why we are there in their houses, absolutely - for capturing their husbands or brother or their fathers. But most of them, in many houses, like, females and children, like, they didn't agree with their husbands - they are doing. And some of them, like, just give us the answer, OK. In Afghanistan, like in most areas, like, especially in south of Afghanistan, the female, they are not allowed to go to this school, and they are not allowed to work. So most of them, like, they didn't like their husbands, and - because they didn't choose their husbands.

PFEIFFER: Right. This wasn't the life...

AKBARI: Yes.

PFEIFFER: ...They necessarily wanted...

AKBARI: Yeah.

PFEIFFER: ...For themselves.

AKBARI: Yeah.

PFEIFFER: So this is work you did to help the U.S. military?

AKBARI: Yes.

PFEIFFER: Did you enjoy the work?

AKBARI: This question is a little bit hard to answer because I really love my job. I feel that I have an impact to bring peace and security in my country. And those missions was really important. And we capture a lot of, like, leaders of Taliban and terrorist groups. But when always I was thinking about my job, I just remember a lot of pain that was in my country.

PFEIFFER: So when you left Afghanistan, you somehow ended up in the U.S.

AKBARI: Yeah.

PFEIFFER: So where have you been living for the past two years and how did that come to be?

AKBARI: When I came here during the evacuation, that was a very hard situation, like, even to get out from the house and go to the airport. And then it takes for FTP like more than about 10 days that we could, like, go to inside the airport because there were a lot of crowd of people. We came here, and we were in a military camp for two months. And after that, they sent us to - in Maryland, the place that I live.

PFEIFFER: Do you - did you have a family and did your family come with you?

AKBARI: I couldn't bring my family. I just could bring my two nieces. And one of them was a police officer and one of them was - she was in college, and she is studying nursing. And I bring those, but I couldn't bring the rest of my family.

PFEIFFER: Do you have much contact with your other family members now?

AKBARI: Yeah. Every single day we have contact...

PFEIFFER: Oh, is that right? FaceTime or WhatsApp - how are you...

AKBARI: WhatsApp.

PFEIFFER: Yeah.

AKBARI: Most Afghans use WhatsApp. So now it's really dangerous for our family because they allow us to work for U.S. military. And so most of the girls, like two or three of FTPs, the Taliban, like, captured their brother and tortured them.

PFEIFFER: So you have been in the U.S. for two years, and now you're not sure what happens next. But there's a chance you could stay. There's something that's been proposed called the Afghan Adjustment Act. How are you feeling about what happens next for you?

AKBARI: I think it's important for me, the Afghan Adjustment Act, because I want to join to U.S. military, but I can't because I don't have my permanent status. I think the important thing is my reunification of my family. I want to bring them here. But because I don't have permanent status, I can't do that. It's the same for the other FTPs.

PFEIFFER: You know, you're trying to come into the country at a time when there's a lot of pushback in the United States to migrants and migration.

AKBARI: Yes.

PFEIFFER: What do you think that means for your chances of being able to stay permanently?

AKBARI: There are a lot of people, they don't have, like, good situation in their country, and they want to come here. And everybody understand this. But I think there is a difference between Afghans and other people because we were all allies, like Americans' allies, more than they - about 20 years. And a lot of people, like Afghan people, like, they risked their lives to work with U.S. military and help them.

PFEIFFER: You think Afghans should be a priority?

AKBARI: Yep.

PFEIFFER: Mahnaz Akbari was the commander of the Afghan military's Female Tactical Platoon. Thank you for coming to the studio.

AKBARI: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Kai McNamee
Sacha Pfeiffer is a correspondent for NPR's Investigations team and an occasional guest host for some of NPR's national shows.