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Women-led U.S. Teams Work With Afghan Women

By Jian DeLeon
Emerging Media, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, Dec. 9, 2010 – Following the counterinsurgency tenet of supporting civilians, the Army and Marines have deployed women-focused teams to gain insight into Afghanistan’s mostly silent female population.

Female engagement teams are deployed to support battlefield operations and meet with Afghan women to gain understanding and insight into the country’s culture, Army Col. Chadwick W. Clark, director of the Counterinsurgency Training Center-Afghanistan, said during a Dec. 7 “DoDLive” bloggers roundtable.

Team members are trained “to conduct female engagements in a culturally respectful manner,” Clark said. They bring to the war effort comprehensive understanding of the operational environment and contribute to civil-military operations, medical visits, and educational programs, he said.

“All the females that are on these engagement teams have volunteered to do it,” Clark said. “They're taken from different specialties, and they go through varying degrees of training, depending on how they're going to be employed.”

The coalition has 40 female engagement teams with at least two women per team, Clark said. Team members possess different disciplines and military specialties, he added, and they have very high morale.

“I haven't talked to one woman that's on a female engagement team that isn't motivated and happy about what she’s doing,” Clark said.

Clark hopes to increase the number of teams.

"The demand far outweighs the supply that we have,” he said, “which is one of the reasons why we're trying to look at the program, [to] expand [and standardize] it."

Marine Corps Col. Sheila Scanlon, a U.S. adviser on gender issues and female engagement teams at the Afghan Ministry of Interior, also participated in the call.

Team members must possess a variety of skills, including the ability “to move, shoot and communicate while they’re out [in the field],” Scanlon said. Yet, she said, one of the most important values the teams exhibit is cultural sensitivity.

“All of us try not to insult the Afghans and to try to abide by their rules,” Scanlon said.

In addition to engaging women in Afghan communities, she said, the teams also are used to support Afghan army and police women in hospitals in Bagram. With this in mind, she added, leaders are just beginning to realize the various uses of the teams.

“We're working very hard over here on how to best deploy the FETs,” Scanlon said. “We're learning as we go along. We are using lessons learned. As Colonel Clark said, we're trying to standardize it across the services. It's exciting."

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The opinions expressed in the following comments do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Department of Defense.

1/10/2011 8:00:15 AM
The use of Female Engagement Teams (FETs) by the Army and Marines is an exceptional strategy to win the hearts and minds of the Afghan people. Under the Taliban women had no rights and were deprived of an education. Employing trained FETs promotes cultural awareness; helps identify the needs of the Afghan women and empower them to take their place in society. FETs are a social variable that can effectively eliminate friction and build trust of US troops in this evolving operational environment. The views expressed above are those of MAJ De Armas and do not reflect the official policy of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the US Goverment.
- MAJ Victor De Armas, ILE Ft. Belvoir, VA

12/10/2010 1:43:44 AM
I think this is an important and practical way to reach the women of Afghanistan, a population that is largely ignored. I truly hope the program is able to successfully expand. Both parties could learn a great deal about each other and really make an impact away from the frontlines.
- Dijon Rolle, Germany

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