Afghan women who hunted Taliban now in Arizona, but will they be able to stay?
Vetted to the highest levels to work with U.S. special forces, these female soldiers are still fighting for Special Immigrant Visas
PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -- One year ago today, the Taliban took control of Kabul. As American forces evacuated, a group of Afghan women who helped hunt insurgents, working secret missions with our special ops teams, got left behind. And the battle to get them out was only the beginning.
Now some of those women are here in Arizona. But will they be able to stay?
These women went from elite soldiers to refugees with a bounty on their heads the instant the Taliban took over. The clock is ticking. They’re now one year into a two-year parole visa, getting settled here in the Valley, waiting for help from lawmakers for some safety assurance they won’t be sent back.
Adila Jiwadi can’t unpack all the ways she’s still fighting injustice as she starts a new life here in Arizona, more than 7,000 miles away from home in Afghanistan. Army combat veteran Rebekah Edmondson trained and fought alongside Adila for six years, doing what their male counterparts could not in a Muslim country: search and question women and children.
The Afghan Female Tactical Platoon, or FTP, worked overnight missions with elite strike force teams like the Army Rangers, Green Berets, Delta Force and Navy SEALS.
Bill Richardson, a retired Valley police officer and Marine, says his daughter worked with Rebekah on the Army’s Cultural Support Team, or CST, helping their new mission to resettle these women starting over stateside. “They gave up everything to ensure our special forces were able to compete their missions. Culturally, men can’t interact with women they’re not related to,” Richardson explained.
The FTPs were integral in putting hands on the population that was untouched by other soldiers, helping glean valuable intel from women in the villages. “They went after high-value Taliban targets. It was extremely dangerous,” Richardson said. Their unit was crucial on raids because the women in the villages always knew where the insurgents and weapons were hiding.
“The men, women and children really need us, and I was happy to help them,” Jiwadi said. And Bill’s happy to help her. He’s taken in Adila, her brother, and two other FTPs in the last year. “It’s one of those things you can’t say no to,” Richardson said.
He gets emotional talking about the risk and sacrifices of these women who can never return home. And says it’s a gut punch they’re not already being guaranteed protection and permanency. “They put everything on the line,” he said. And they lost everything when the Taliban seized control, and American forces withdrew. “They were told to leave the base, and they went to hiding in Kabul,” Richardson said.
Adila says she never thought the Taliban would take over. “They were marked for death,” Richardson said.
The next day, August 16, 2021, Arizona Sen. Mark Kelly and Kyrsten Sinema signed a joint letter with other lawmakers. The letter urged the Secretary of State and Homeland Security Secretary to help the FTPs, asking “to protect these women who might fall through the cracks of the U.S. Government’s response” with “Taliban fighters going house-to-house with their names.”
Most FTPs are Hazara, a persecuted minority in Afghanistan. The unit was only about 40 strong compared to the 76,000 Afghan refugees displaced last fall.
“It was dangerous for me, for my brother, for all FTP,” Jiwadi said. Most of the FTPs destroyed military IDs and any documents that could be used against them if confronted at the Taliban checkpoints. But, of course, that only complicated efforts to vet them as they were forced to self-evacuate.
It took five days for Adila and her brother to get out, sneaking past checkpoints with the help of text messages from Rebekah and other Sisters of Service. They showed them where to go and when and how to connect with someone on the inside who could get them past the crowds at the airport, where people were dying in the crush and chaos trying to get out.
Fast forward to earlier this month, we were there as Adila and her brother moved into their new duplex in Tempe. Right next door to the other two FTPs. They’re all back from Washington, D.C., where they met with Arizona congressman Greg Stanton.
“We don’t want to put them in any risk of having to go back to Afghanistan; that would be a huge injustice,” Stanton said. So instead, he’s trying to help expedite their immigration status, recognizing these women were already vetted to the highest levels to be able to work alongside our special forces. “We need to make sure that they are safe,” Stanton said.
The FTPs don’t qualify for special immigrant visas, like interpreters, for instance. Because while the U.S. Army created the FTP, the women were employed by the Afghan army. So now, they’re in limbo, on a two-year humanitarian parole visa.
“Imagine how they must feel without the certainty of what tomorrow or next week or next year looks like. It’s exhausting. How do you acclimate and look forward to things and set goals when your entire life is up in the air?” Edmondson said.
“I think the United States Government needs to step up,” Richardson said. While it’s true all Afghan women are better off here in the states with access to education and freedoms once again being denied by the Taliban, this group of women is markedly different. While some affluent families were able to help their daughters resettle here and go to university, the FTPs saved lives in some of our most dangerous combat missions, then were left to fend for themselves. Bill says now that they beat the odds and made it here, we owe it to them to do more.
Rebekah’s now working with the PenFed Foundation, helping coordinate everything the FTPs need here in the states. From housing and healthcare to employment and English classes. “We’re essentially all they’ve got over here,” Edmondson said.
Adila is eager to make a new home here and wants to keep fighting, this time, for our armed forces. “What else could you ask for in an immigrant? How do you turn your back on somebody that gave everything they had to keep your people alive and now have nothing?” Richardson said.
Adila wants to get a Green Card so she can join the Army. And while previous attempts to expedite the Afghan Adjustment Act or AAA, through Congress, tying it to Ukrainian aide packages failed, there’s now new momentum.
Rep. Stanton’s co-sponsoring the AAA through the House Judiciary. Senate lawmakers introduced their version last week as well. It would extend Special Immigrant Visa status to at-risk Afghan allies, like the FTP and their relatives. There’s also a provision to assure more efficient processing through our already backlogged immigration system.
“How can I just say — I’m thankful,” Jiwadi said.
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