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Afghanistan’s first female air force pilot is seeking asylum in the US

Niloofar Rhmani accepts her pilot wings at a ceremony May 14, 2013, at Shindand Air Base, Afghanistan. (U.S. Air Force photo/Scott Saldukas)
By Selina Cheng
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Captain Niloofar Rahmani was the first female pilot to join Afghanistan’s air force. Now she says death threats have driven her to seek asylum in the United States, CNN reports.

At just 21, Rahmani became Afghanistan’s first first fixed-wing air force pilot in 2013. Her achievement, in a country with wide restrictions on what women can do, was hailed by the US government; in 2015, she was given the state department’s annual Women of Courage award.

But the young pilot says she since received death threats from relatives in her extended family, who believe her work dishonors them. She also says she has received threats from a faction of the Taliban in Pakistan, which attempted to kill Nobel prize laureate Malala Yousafzai in 2012.

“I would love to fly for my country—that is what I always wanted to do,” Rahmani told the Wall Street Journal. “But I’m scared for my life.” Her claim has drawn criticism from Afghan general Mohammad Radmanish, who in an interview with CNN accused Rahmani of lying to bolster her asylum petition.

Rahmani is hoping to find a new life in the United States, after completing a 15-month training in US air force bases in Texas, Florida and Arkansas, the New York Times reports. During a Dec. 23 interview, she announced that she had submitted an asylum application this summer. The application is now pending.

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