Women break barriers in Afghan military

(CBS News) FORT RUCKER, Ala. - The last American combat troops will exit Afghanistan at the end of 2014. They've been training Afghans to take over the fight.

You might be surprised by who is answering the call to defend Afghanistan.

If you think of Afghan women as downtrodden and of Afghans as not willing to fight for their own country, you need to meet Sourya Saleh and Masooma Hussaini.

"We are Afghan," Hussaini said. "That's our duty. We have to defend our country."

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They are the first two Afghan women to go through the U.S. Army's helicopter flight school at Fort Rucker, Ala., which required them to learn English before they could learn to fly.

"We knew that we are gonna start a really hard thing," Hussaini said. "It's not gonna be easy on us, but we didn't know it was gonna be this hard."

Barely into their 20s, neither had been outside Afghanistan before. They have not been back for a year and a half.

"But now we are going back to our country with a really big accomplishment," Hussaini said.

"They've gone from learning how to hold a steady hover -- which they say was the hardest thing -- to flying at night and will graduate next week. In Alabama, they are flying American scout helicopters. In Afghanistan, they will be flying Russian-made attack helicopters.

Saleh said she's ready for combat and the long war ahead.

"We come all the way till here," she said. "We want, we will do it to, till the end."

As you can see from their head scarves, they have not adopted American culture. After 18 months of it, they can't wait to get home.

"For sure the first ones that we wanna see is our family, our parents," Hussaini said. "My mom. I miss her so much. I don't know how to say that I miss her."

Saleh and Hussaini both said they hope their example inspires other women to defend their country.

"We wanna be an example to stand for them. And we want to show them if we can do it, you all can do it," Saleh said.

"At first our goal was to open the door," Hussaini said. "Now we did open the door ... to be a military woman. To help your country as a woman, to be a pilot, not be afraid of anyone that they are saying, 'No, you cannot.' We can."

The outcome of a war is beyond the control of any one person, but if you had to pick two who just might make a difference, you couldn't do better than this.

  • David Martin

    David Martin is CBS News' National Security Correspondent.