Women on the Afghan frontline - combat soldiers with an extra dimension

Female soldiers in Afghanistan
CBS News

(CBS News) AFGHANISTAN -- Ghorak base in southern Afghanistan is so remote, supplies arrive air express and have to be manhandled into storage by the Special Forces stationed there.

Major Wendy Corey CBS News

But at this bastion of elite male fighting power, there are women soldiers.

The female soldiers' brothers-in-arms cast a critical eye on their competence.

"They'll take a step back to see if you know what you're doing," said Major Wendy Corey. "To see if you're confident, to see if you can handle the mission."

The mission is general soldiering and to get to know Afghan women who are not allowed contact with men outside their families.

U.S. soldiers chat with locals in Afghanistan CBS News

In this role, Sgt. Eve Araiza is a combat soldier with an added dimension.

Araiza says the women tell her things that her male colleagues wouldn't get from the men they're in contact with.

"They do tell us things. They do report Taliban activity. They do report IED activity," she said.

A new mother told Araiza she's just reported two IEDs -- or Taliban bombs -- during a visit to the clinic on the base, specifically for women and children.

Sgt Eve Araiza with an Afghan baby CBS News

But the most dangerous work the female soldiers do is at night on Special Operations strike force raids to capture Taliban fighters.

The military gave CBS News video of female soldiers reassuring Afghan women and children.

"Taking them to a mosque or someplace that's away from the situation allows the strike force to accomplish the mission," said Corey.

A study done for the military found that there is less violence when women soldiers join the raids.

"You've got to put yourself in almost like a motherly role or a sisterly role," said Araiza.

"Just softly talking to them and explaining to them the situation and you hope that it works."

They may be members of hard-core fighting units, but many tasks are gender-specific.

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But Arazai rejects the idea that female soldiers are given "girly" assignments.

(Left: U.S. exit strategy in Afghanistan underway.)

"We go out there, we go out on patrol. We pull our weight. Get the mission done, just as they do," she said.

And there is the advantage of being able to connect with 50 percent of the population which, until now, has been off-limits to American soldiers.

  • Elizabeth Palmer
    Elizabeth Palmer

    Elizabeth Palmer has been a CBS News correspondent since August 2000. She has been based in London since late 2003, after having been based in Moscow (2000-03). Palmer reports primarily for the "CBS Evening News."