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New York Times best seller, Ashley’s War, by CFR Senior Fellow for Women and Foreign Policy Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, gives an inside look at the first-ever all-female, all-Army team to serve on the battlefield alongside Special Operations Forces in Afghanistan—despite the official ban on women in ground-combat units.
In 2010, the U.S. Army Special Operations Command launched a pilot program that would put women on the battlefield alongside Special Forces, Army Rangers, and Navy SEALs on sensitive nighttime missions in Afghanistan. The idea was that women soldiers could do things men could not—access and communicate with Afghan women who remained out of reach to male soldiers in a conservative, traditional country. Despite the combat ban, female soldiers could be “attached” to different teams, and for the first time, women tried out for a special ops program, called Cultural Support Teams (CST), that eventually would allow them to serve in a combat environment seen by less than 5 percent of the U.S. military.
By the beginning of 2011, posters and emails calling for female volunteers seeking to be “part of history” went out across the Army, National Guard, and Reserve. Of the more than one hundred women chosen to come to Fort Bragg for the demanding, weeklong CST selection process, roughly half would pass the test and make the team.
In Ashley’s War, Lemmon uses on-the-ground reporting and a finely tuned understanding of the complexities of war to tell the story of CST-2, a unit of women handpicked from across the Army, Guard and Reserve, and the remarkable hero at its heart: 1st Lt. Ashley White, who was killed in action and honored on the Army Special Operations Memorial Wall of Honor alongside the men of Ranger Regiment, with whom she died on mission. She would also become the first female to be remembered on the National Infantry Museum’s Memorial Walk.
Ashley’s War reveals
- the behind-the-scenes story of how and why the first program to officially bring women on night raids alongside Army Special Operations Forces and SEALs was created by Special Operations commanders;
- that long before the new program was in place in Afghanistan, female soldiers had gone on special-operations missions to search and question women; and
- that commanders had opened up positions to women they felt were the best for the job, even though the jobs remained closed to female soldiers well before the combat ban was lifted in 2013.
Lemmon, author of the New York Times bestseller, The Dressmaker of Khair Khana, transports readers into this little-known world of fierce women bound together by valor, danger, and the desire to serve. Last month, Reese Witherspoon’s production company, Pacific Standard, and Fox 2000 won a book-rights auction to take Ashley’s War to the big screen.
To order the book, visit www.cfr.org/ashleyswar.