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Note from Mike 

As life for women and girls in Afghanistan becomes ever more restrictive and dangerous under Taliban rule, our latest Insights long read reveals the secret role played by some female American soldiers there in the post-9/11 war. While women were officially still banned from ground combat duty, the US military was covertly sending female soldiers into action, in part to gather intelligence that was inaccessible to their male counterparts.

Years later, these women describe the full emotional and physical toll of their deployments – from calming Afghan civilians after their doors had been broken down in the middle of the night, to dealing with repeated sexist abuse from male colleagues – while never having these roles officially acknowledged. Such revelations debunk any simplistic representations of them as trailblazers for equal rights in the US military, or as models of feminist liberation for Afghan women.

We also consider the legal and ethical implications of combining MRI imagery and AI chatbot technology to “read” someone’s thoughts as a continuous flow of text. Our expert in responsible AI says this recent development raises significant concerns for privacy, freedom of thought – and even the freedom to dream without interference.

And as the epic Succession finally draws to a close, a professor of music explains why hip hop has been the perfect soundtrack for this story of corporate intrigue, capitalist entitlement and white privilege.

Our Insights articles are unique, essay-length, investigative pieces that unearth fascinating insights from deep academic research. If you value these long reads, and any of our articles, please help fund their creation by donating to The Conversation today.

Mike Herd

Investigations Editor, Insights

US marines with a female engagement team in southern Helmand province, Afghanistan, in May 2012. Cpl. Meghan Gonzales/DVIDS

Women’s secret war: the inside story of how the US military sent female soldiers on covert combat missions to Afghanistan

Jennifer Greenburg, University of Sheffield

Women who served in unofficial combat and intelligence roles during the Afghanistan war offer brutally honest accounts of their experiences.

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