Female Marines face Afghans in brightly colored scarves
The United States Marines are applying lessons learned in al Anbar province, Iraq, to the surge into Afghanistan’s troubled south. A group of female Marines has been tasked with the mission of making contact with the women of Afghanistan.
Marines of 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, the ground combat element of Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force – Afghanistan, now have a special group of individuals to help them complete their mission.
The Marines employ a select group of female Marines from within SPMAGTF-Afghanistan who are trained to interact with the Afghan female population – a task considered culturally unacceptable for their male Marine brethren operating in the Islamic republic.
A similar program, often called the Lioness Program, has been used in combat operations in Iraq, but this is the first time Marine forces in Afghanistan have employed the concept.
Capt. Mike Hoffman, commanding officer of Company I, 3rd Bn., 8th Marines, said the all-female team is an important asset for his unit.
“[The team] provides us access to half of the population that we normally do not have access to,” Hoffman said. “They did extremely well interacting with the female villagers.”
Team leader, 2nd Lt. Johanna Shaffer, said their first mission, a cordon and search during Operation Pathfinder, was very successful.
“We were accepted by both the men and women villagers and were able to obtain valuable information about the way they lived and what they thought about the Marine Corps operating in the area,” Shaffer said.
During their first mission, the female Marines donned brightly colored head and neck scarves as a sign of cultural respect to the Afghan women.
“The scarves showed the Afghan women that we were women too, and we respect their culture,” said Shaffer. “They automatically felt more comfortable with us.
They showed us their homes, and even though they didn’t have much, they were still very generous to us. They accepted us as sisters, and were glad that we were here to help them.”
Although Afghan women tend to be less outspoken than Afghan men, they have a large influence on their children, Shaffer said.
“If the women know we are here to help them, they will likely pass that on to their children,” she said. “If the children have a positive perspective of alliance forces, they will be less likely to join insurgent groups or participate in insurgent activities.”
The female Marines were also well received by the village men. “They had no problem allowing [the team] the chance to interact with their women,” Hoffman said.
According to Shaffer, the concept employed by her team varies greatly from the program in Iraq because of differences in Afghan culture.
“The cultural background here is completely different than that of Iraq,” Shaffer said. “Women here are more timid than in Iraq. There is less of a chance that Afghan women would try to harm us because they understand we are here to help them.”
The mission of SPMAGTF-Afghanistan is to conduct counterinsurgency operations, with a focus on training and mentoring the Afghan National Police.
Operation Pathfinder was a deliberate counterinsurgency engagement conducted in coordination with Afghan national security forces along Route 515 in southern Afghanistan.
Approximately 2,000 III Marine Expeditionary Force Marines are currently deployed in support of SPMAGTF-Afghanistan.
by Lance Cpl. Monty Burton
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