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KABUL, Afghanistan — From a childhood as a refugee, Capt. Safia Ferozi is now flying a transport plane for Afghanistan's air force as the country's second female pilot, a sign of the efforts to bring more women into the armed forces.
Along the way, the 26-year-old Ferozi also married another pilot, who flies in the same unit supporting army ground forces. They are part of a small Afghan air force that is trying to take a greater role in fighting the Taliban insurgency.
"When I wear military uniform, I really, really feel proud of myself as a woman," said Ferozi, who is one of only two female pilots in the Afghan air force and flies a C-208 — a turboprop plane used as transport for the armed forces.
Nearly 16 years since the collapse of the militant Taliban regime after the US-led invasion in 2001, Afghan women are taking steps to increase their presence in society, including in parliament, government and the military. Still, they face resistance in a deeply conservative society where women are largely expected to stay in the home and where violence against women remains a widespread problem.
"As a woman you face many challenges, but you have to deal somehow with all those problems"
When she was a child, Farozi's family fled from their home in Kabul in the 1990s, during the civil war among Afghanistan's warlords. They took refuge in Pakistan, returning only after the fall of the Taliban.
In high school in post-Taliban Afghanistan, Farozi saw a TV commercial urging women to join the military. So after graduation she enrolled in the military academy, studying to become a communication officer. Then it was announced at the academy that the air force was looking for women to become pilots.
Farozi and 12 other women applied, and she was the only one who passed the tests to enter training.
While she was training at an airfield in the western province of Herat, she first met Capt. Mohammad Jawad Najafi, the pilot who would later become her husband. They married nearly two years ago.
She graduated from training in 2015. She gave birth to their first child, daughter Nergis, now nearly 8 months old, and is back flying missions.
Ferozi says she hopes to inspire other women.
"As a woman you face many challenges, but you have to deal somehow with all those problems," she said.