American women soldiers are probably among the most liberated women in the world, fighting in the world's most sophisticated army. Many are on the ground in Afghanistan. Their aim is not only to wage war on terror but also to battle the Taliban-led campaign against women's rights. Some Afghan women, though, say they want to fight this battle on their own. Mandy Clark has this report from Khost, in eastern Afghanistan.
Sergeant Barbara Ospina sits on a dusty bench cleaning her rifle. She joined the U.S. Army as a response to al-Qaida's September 11th, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington. The 23-year-old wife and mother says she is committed to fighting the war on terror - but also another battle: the fight for women's rights in Afghanistan."It's pretty much like night and day when you look at American women compared to Afghan women but after all, we're all women," said Sergeant Ospina.
Although the United States military ousted the Taliban in 2001, Ospina says Taliban ideas about women - and how they should behave - are still ingrained in the country's psyche.
Ospina says she hopes to help change that during her tour in Afghanistan.
"I would hope that when we leave here in 14 more months that it's a step closer than when we came in - not for us, but for the Afghan people because that's what they want, and that's what I want to help provide for them," she said.
Apache helicopter pilot Sharon Kelly has similar goals. She believes the Taliban must be defeated. She says American forces can help the Afghan people win their battle for basic freedoms.
"For me it's about America, but it's about everybody else too because we have such an amazing way of life and we have freedom and choices,' said Kelly. "But we want them to have the choices and to have the freedom that we do. I mean, having women in Afghanistan free would be an amazing thing."
Afghanistan has always been a traditional, male-dominated society, but women under the Islamic extremist Taliban rule suffered much more than before. Women and girls were confined to their homes, and barred from school. They could leave home only if accompanied by a male member of the family. And they had to wear a Burka, a flowing cape that covered them from head to toe, with a mesh screen over their eyes, their narrow window on the world.
That was supposed to change when the Taliban was routed. And some things have. Now, women are serving in government and girls can go to school.
But Parween, from the Revolutionary Afghan Women's Association, says not enough has changed. She would only give a first name. She says women's advocates are often targeted by extremists and she blames the Americans for the resurgence of the Taliban and what she says are new dangers for women.
"We think the situation for Afghan women is worse than before, it is no different to Taliban time and now," said Parween. "This war is not war against Taliban and al-Qaida, it's war against our people. United States bombing villages, killing the children and when people ask them, they say it was just a mistake and we thought there was Taliban. For this reason Taliban every day become more powerful."
The Taliban has been regrouping, especially in the country's east and south. The battles between Taliban fighters and U.S.-led coalition troops have heightened a sense of insecurity. They have also stoked fears that Taliban rule is on the way back. A growing number of civilians have fled their homes and are displaced inside the country.
"OK, we have had the international military forces come in, but in fact the situation has got worse in the last two to three years and in fact we are seeing more people fleeing their places of origin," said Maya Amertunga, who is from the U.N.'s refugee agency. "We have so many internally displaced peoples, IDPs, who have received threatening letters from the Taliban. So something as fundamental as the right to an education is under attack here."
Afghan political activist, Malalai Joya, says the Americans may be well intentioned. But, she says, freedom cannot come from the barrel of a gun.
"Maybe this B-52 will bring real democracy, first of all security for us," said Malalai Joya. "Today unfortunately, we do not have women rights. Women rights, human rights, these values are not something that someone [can] donate [to] us."
Afghan women activists and American women soldiers - their goals are similar; their ideas on how to achieve them remain vastly different.