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May 17, 2013

Tsongas: Women can be peacekeepers in Afghanistan

Back just two days from her fifth fact-finding trip to Afghanistan as a member of Congress, Niki Tsongas yesterday said women will need to play a key role in maintaining peace in the country after the withdrawal of U.S. troops expected in 2014.

“The situation in Afghanistan remains fragile and highly complicated and there is a lot at stake going forward. Its government cannot ignore 50 percent of their population or turn back the clock on the gains achieved for women and girls without jeopardizing the long-term security of the country,” she said in a statement.

“Afghan women are eager to protect what they have gained so that upon U.S. withdrawal, they do not see these gains slip away. After meeting with so many extraordinary Afghan women, I have no doubt they are confident and determined to continue their march toward equality. The United States and the international community have a responsibility to bolster their great advancements and prevent it from backsliding so that progress can continue.”

In a telephone interview yesterday, Tsongas, the only Massachusetts member of the House Armed Services Committee, said she and other members of a bipartisan congressional delegation visited an academy modeled after West Point where there are “modest numbers” of female students who could become members of Afghan’s security forces.

At one time, Tsongas said, “women were not allowed access at any level.”

“One of the issues...Afghan women feel as though ... they need to see an integrated police forces” in a country where woman have traditionally been oppressed, she said.

The academy, paid with U.S. dollars, “prepares an officer corps and also seeks to prepare leaders for the country,” she said.

Tsongas and the other delegation members met with coalition commanders including General Joseph Dunford and General Mark Milley. Tsongas said as part of the withdrawal of U.S. troops, 85 percent of the effort has been transferred to Afghan security forces and that Dunford and others are “relatively optimistic.”

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