They have no uniform and little training but a small band of Afghan women are taking the battle to the Taliban after becoming Helmand's first female police recruits, the Ministry of Defence said yesterday.
The 13 Afghan National Police (ANP) women were taken under the wing of British MoD police officer Isabella McManus after she found them sitting unnoticed in a corner at Police Headquarters.
Tales of heroic feats already abound — one woman was honoured with a police award after reportedly karate-kicking a detonator from the hands of a would-be bomber.
“It wasn't my job to start mentoring the women specifically but they struck a chord with me,” said Ms McManus.
“They were ignored entirely at the Police Headquarters and it wasn't right.
“They needed a uniform giving them some status and they needed training and equipment.
“I've fought those battles with them every step of the way and we are getting somewhere. The women are empowered and it's great to see.”
The military police officer secured permission for the women to go to a firing range for the first time. One of the recruits reportedly silenced a group of sneering men by hitting the target with her first five shots.
Ms McManus is now hoping to have a uniform for the fighters by the end of the month.
“I sat down with the women and we designed something that would be culturally acceptable but would allow them to wear their rank with pride,” she continued.
“They are starting to feel valued and the number of recruits has almost doubled since I've been here.
“It's an incremental process but in a province where women are often expected to be seen and not heard, what these women are doing is truly amazing.”
Many of the women do not tell their neighbours or even their families what they do for a living for fear of reprisals.
Zaazanga, who is 36 and married with six children, said: “I tell my neighbours that I work at a clinic.
“If they found out what I did, I would be reported to the Taliban. They would have me killed within seconds.
“My job is a secret from everyone, not even my husband knows.
“When I leave the house to go out on patrol I don't know whether I'll be coming back. It is dangerous work.”
Malaaley (22), who joined the ANP five months ago, reportedly tackled a Taliban fighter single-handedly.
“We heard that some terrorists were leaving a compound so we went into the area to stop them,” she said.
“The women police officers often go into the compounds first so that they can search the other women.
“When I got in, I caught a man who had narcotics and grenade bombs strapped to him. He was Taliban so I arrested him. He was sent to prison.
“I have so much enthusiasm for the police. I want to progress up the ranks. Some day, I'll be a General.”
- Names have been changed.