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Afghan female commandos want to fight in MMA

Afghan female commandos want to fight in MMA

Hawa Haidari remembers her most dangerous assignment… She ended up hiding for what seemed like hours in the river.

For six years, Haidari was secretly an Afghan commando, working alongside US Special Forces to locate and identify terrorists during the war in Afghanistan. The dangerous mission was an overnight raid. She and another member of the Female Tactical Platoon snuck into a house in search of a terrorist.

left in the river

Minutes later, Heydari heard a voice over her radio.

“They say: Get out of the house in five minutes or the Taliban will come and… they will shoot you or attack you,” Al-Haidari recalls.

She and her colleague quickly got out of the house and jumped into a large river. Al-Haidari slid on the rocks and drowned in the water, but they remained in the river and called for help via the radio. A helicopter flew over to rescue other members of the expedition, but the sound of the propellers was too loud to be heard by the two women.

Haidari plans for the worst. I was just thinking: If the Taliban comes, what should I do, what should I use [to kill them]? The Taliban never showed up, and in the end the fighters were saved.

Hawa Haidari, left, joins US Special Forces on missions in Afghanistan. (Photo courtesy of Hawa Haidari)

Success through cultural taboos

Because of the conservative Afghan culture, Afghan men did not suspect that Afghan women could bear arms or serve with the army.

Mahnaz Akbari led the Female Platoon Tactical (FTP) as its leader for 10 years and says the taboo against men touching females has also worked in their favour. When the US military raided the home of a suspected terrorist, Akbari says the suspect was giving “his SIM card, phone and passport to the females to hide.” They also hid weapons from female relatives, which, Akbari said, “made the mission a success” once her team searched the women in the house.

Although the missions are over, Akbari is proud of what her platoon has accomplished and believes the team has pushed social norms a little more for all Afghan women and for her home country. “I believe in Afghanistan, every job that a woman does, even if it is a very small one, paves the way for the development of a more democratic society. When women get involved, it is a great opportunity for our country,” she continued.

Members of the Afghan Secret Women's Tactical Platoon meet at the Military Women's Memorial at Arlington Cemetery for the Women, Peace and Security Series in October.  (Caroline Presotti/Voice of America)

Members of the Afghan Secret Women’s Tactical Platoon meet at the Military Women’s Memorial at Arlington Cemetery for the Women, Peace and Security Series in October. (Caroline Presotti/Voice of America)

Haidari, Akbari, and 40 other FTP members left Afghanistan for the United States after the Taliban seized power in August 2021. They settled in various parts of the country, and many of them did not see other faction members outside Afghanistan until they gathered in October. Reunion at the Military Women’s Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. The program was sponsored in part by a US Federal Credit Union through a Foundation to assist the FTP in resettlement in American communities.

From commandos fighting the Taliban to fighting immigration

Resettlement is fraught with obstacles as these women face another battle: obtaining immigration status.

The FTP was a secret program funded by the Afghan government under the supervision and training of US forces. So they lack the HR paperwork needed to obtain a Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) that can lead to citizenship.

The Afghanistan Amendment Act will include FTP’s in the SIV group, but the measure has yet to be approved by the US Congress. The platoon entered the country on parole, and some, like Heydari, applied for asylum.

Hawa Haidari exercises in a Washington state gym with the goal of fighting in a ring and being the first Afghan woman to win a mixed martial arts championship.  (Caroline Presotti/Voice of America)

Hawa Haidari exercises in a Washington state gym with the goal of fighting in a ring and being the first Afghan woman to win a mixed martial arts championship. (Caroline Presotti/Voice of America)

A woman can do this.

Haidari lives with her three sisters in a two-bedroom apartment in Spokane, Washington. Her days are filled with English lessons, work at an Asian fast food restaurant, and strength and endurance exercises.

At the gym, she wears oversized pink boxing gloves and spades. She does squats with kettlebells. She climbs ropes. She jumps through an agility workout. Dealing with rope fighting.

The tiny 140 centimeters tall woman who tops the scales with a weight of 46 kilograms has a towering goal.

“I want to be an MMA fighter, fighting with people in the ring,” she said.

Haidari is working to be the first Afghan woman to win a place in mixed martial arts, a sport that combines many techniques.

In her military job, she faced a lot of gender discrimination by Afghan men who asked her to leave the faction. She says she is now free to pursue her new goal.

“In Afghanistan, there are a lot of people who say to women, ‘You have to be at home and you can’t do this, you can’t do that.’ That’s why I want to show them that women can do it.”


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