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Jamila Bayaz inspires women while serving as Afghan police chief

KABUL — Jamila Bayaz is used to threats.

They began more than 30 years ago when she became a police officer in Afghanistan.

At the time, Bayaz was one of about a dozen Afghan women to wear a uniform. Earlier this year, she made history when she became the first female district police chief in Kabul and again when she was promoted to brigadier general.

So when a U.S. military adviser mentioned seeing her on a Taliban website targeting women in important positions, Bayaz was not fazed.

Instead, she responded with a look of derision and contempt.

"They are dreaming," Bayaz said from her office in Police District 1, a small compound in the middle of a bustling marketplace. "Nobody wants them anymore. There are bad memories of that government. Nothing will happen. Nothing will change."

District 1 is home to about 195,000 Afghans, and many more come to the area to shop in one of Kabul's largest commercial districts.

Bayaz, a 50-year-old mother of five, is an educated, powerful woman in a male-dominated society.

That makes her an inspiration not just for Afghan women but for women everywhere, said U.S. Army Capt. Lindsey Colvin, who advises Bayaz.

Colvin, who deployed with the 18th Airborne Corps but was later reassigned to serve as an adviser with Regional Command Capital, said she had read of Bayaz before deploying and was impressed by the woman long before they met.

She deployed with a goal of meeting Bayaz. She was picked to join the advisory team based, in part, on her experience serving on a cultural support team with special operations soldiers on a previous deployment.

Now Colvin works with Bayaz to improve the lives of women in Afghanistan while increasing the number of female police officers.

Bayaz said she had few role models when she came up through the force, but a lot has changed in the years after Taliban rule.

Now her efforts are focused on pushing for a more educated police force with tougher requirements.

"We should think about the quality, not the quantity," she said.

While other women have been placed in jobs to meet quotas, Bayaz is the real deal, said Col. John Graham, deputy commander of Regional Command Capital.

"Gen. Bayaz has fought and worked at every rank to get where she is today," he said. "Little girls across Afghanistan are inspired, and at least one young American Army officer is enthralled by her accomplishments."

Colvin joined Graham's team two weeks ago and has her job cut out for her, he said.

"They have to change parents' perceptions, get girls to volunteer, ensure the right training and job opportunities are available, while gaining senior male leader buy-in and enacting protections for the women who are risking everything," Graham said. "All while the Taliban moves Jamila, and all of her supporters, up to the top of their hit list."

Bayaz said her family has been supportive of her rise in the ranks. And she said her officers respect her authority.

And she has noticed the effect her appointment has had on women in Afghanistan.

Bayaz said women came to her office on her first day on the job to congratulate her. Others have come to tell her that they, too, aim to become police officers.

"We've really changed," she said.

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