Afghan Women Who Fought With U.S. Military Seek Legal Immigration Status
This article was originally published in The New York Times by Luke Broadwater and Ava Sasani
Before her country and her life were suddenly and fundamentally changed in 2021, Mahnaz Akbari was the trailblazing commander of the Afghan National Army’s Female Tactical Platoon, an all-female squad that accompanied elite U.S. Special Operations troops as they carried out daring mountain missions, hunted ISIS combatants and freed captives from Taliban jails.
Ms. Akbari, 37, and her soldiers did so at great personal risk. One woman was shot through the neck, suffering a fractured skull. Another was killed shortly before the fall of Kabul. And after the Taliban took over the country, many members of the platoon were forced to flee to the United States.
Now, Ms. Akbari and other members of the Female Tactical Platoon are embarking on another mission: working to convince Congress that their service in Afghanistan has earned them the right to stay in America permanently.
“Our missions were for big targets: a Taliban commander or a Da’ish leader,” Ms. Akbari said, using another name for ISIS during a recent interview at her Silver Spring, Md., apartment.
On Thursday, Ms. Akbari and a group of other women from the Female Tactical Platoon met with lawmakers on Capitol Hill to try to revive stalled legislation to address their and other Afghans’ precarious immigration status. The soldiers are in the United States under a two-year humanitarian parole that is set to expire in August. That would end the women’s work permits, forcing their new employers to terminate their jobs and leaving them in a legal limbo.
The meetings on Thursday ran the gamut from liberal to conservative lawmakers.
Senator Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican who has backed hard-line immigration policies, left his encounter with the women sounding impressed and sympathetic.
“Brave Afghans risked their lives to keep American soldiers safe, and we have a responsibility to them,” Mr. Cruz said after the meeting.
That sentiment was echoed by Representative Michael Waltz, a Florida Republican who just endorsed former President Donald J. Trump for re-election but has been a champion of helping Afghan refugees who aided American troops during the decades-long war in Afghanistan.