A former Afghan Air Force pilot says her “heart is in pain” for the women and girls of Afghanistan as she struggles to get hold of her parents who are trying to leave the country.
Niloofar Rahmani, 29, was the first female fixed-wing Air Force aviator in Afghanistan‘s history and the first female pilot since the fall of the Taliban in 2001.
She was granted asylum in the US in 2018 and has been living in Florida where she has worked as a translator, but will soon be able to fly again in the US.
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Speaking to Sky News, Ms Rahmani says the situation in her home country is becoming “more dangerous every day” for the people of Afghanistan following the Taliban’s swift return to power.
“Everybody is so terrified,” she said, adding: “Everyone is just trying to get away.”
She said she has not been able to speak to her parents but knows they are desperately trying to flee.
“Unfortunately, I am having a difficult time reaching out to my parents – I don’t know if it is due to the internet, I have no idea, but I am definitely worried about everybody there, it looks like people are so terrified. They’re so scared.”
Ms Rahmani pursued her childhood dream of becoming a pilot and spent nearly a year studying English to be able to attend flight school before enlisting in the Afghan Air Force Training Program in 2010, graduating as a Second Lieutenant in 2012.
But as an Afghan female, she said her career is “something the Taliban are against”.
“The Taliban’s war is against women. They don’t want women to be educated, they take away the rights of women,” she said.
“I was a symbol of freedom for women in Afghanistan – as a woman who raises my voice and tries to go against what they believe.”
Due to her career, her family have received death threats from the Taliban and her brother was shot by them.
Despite that, Ms Rahmani persevered to complete her training and won the US State Department’s International Women of Courage Award in 2015.
Ms Rahmani continued: “Unfortunately [my job] ended up risking my life and my family’s life, and I have been threatened so many times by them.”
She continued: “My brother got shot by them… and it is a really scary situation for any woman to be in.
“Right now I am thinking about what every Afghan female is going through – they must be really scared for their lives.
“I have been watching the news non-stop and my heart is in pain – watching the girls screaming ‘I will get killed, please take me away’.
“It’s really scary that the women have to think like this because they know what the future is going to look like for them.”
Ms Rahmani said she does not believe the Taliban has changed and that they are “the same people” regardless of what they are now telling the world.
“Already in Kabul, you see no sign of any women or any pictures of women in the stores… it has already been blacked out.
“One woman has already been killed because she didn’t have a burka on.”
She adds she doesn’t know how the world can trust the Taliban’s word.
Ms Rahmani said it is “really heart-breaking” that the Taliban do not see her as a “human being” and is putting her entire family’s lives at risk for wanting to serve her country as a pilot.
“I’m thinking, ‘what have I done wrong? Is it my fault that I wear the uniform and want to serve my country? Just because I am a woman?'”
She said she “feels so blessed” that she will be able to fly again in the US and wants to use her voice to try and gain more rights for women and girls left behind in Afghanistan.
“As an Afghan woman, it would be my absolute honour to fly for America, against the Taliban”.
Ms Rahmani said she is in disbelief at how the world can “abandon Afghanistan so quick” after the number of international lives lost and the “trillions of dollars spent”.
“What happened to all of that? It’s all wasted.”
But Ms Rahmani said she is “not angry” at the US for the pull-out, but disappointed the leaders of Afghanistan have handed back 20 years to the Taliban.
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