Gul Bibi, an Afghan grandmother well into her eighties, never expected to become a fighter.
But now she is one of more than a hundred women in Afghanistan’s northern Jawzjan province who have taken up arms against Islamist militants.
Nearly all of the women have lost a husband, son or brother to the Taliban or the newly active Islamic State in the province bordering Turkmenistan.
“I lost nine members of my family. The Taliban and Daesh (Islamic State) killed my five sons and four nephews,” Bibi said by phone from Jawzjan. “I have taken up arms to defeat the terrorists so other people’s sons won’t get killed.”
Determined to protect their families, the women approached a local police commander, Sher Ali, in December and asked him for guns and ammunition.
“They came to me and said that if I didn’t provide them with weapons they would kill themselves – before Daesh or the Taliban could,” Ali told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, using the Arabic acronym for Islamic State.
The women are not a properly structured group, he said; they have no uniform and have not received any military training other than how to point a gun at the enemy and shoot.
The Taliban has carried out attacks in Jawzjan for the last decade, part of a country-wide insurgency to topple the Afghan government and drive out foreign troops.
Islamic State became active in the province – a gateway to Central Asia – in early 2016, when a Taliban commander and 50 of his fighters declared allegiance to the ultra-hardline group, said Mohammad Reza Ghafoori, spokesman for Jawzjan governor.
On Dec 25, Islamic State fighters attacked Garmjar village and killed five civilians, burned down about 60 houses and forced 150 families to flee, he said by instant messenger.