January 12, 2013:
After more than a decade of use, the U.S. Marine Corps has shut down its Female Engagement Teams (FET) program last year, at least for the moment. Begun in Afghanistan and widely used in Iraq, the FET concept was also adopted by SOCOM (Special Operations Command), the U.S. Army, and other NATO forces. Programs like this were seen as absolutely essential to gaining the trust of the civilian population, where an innocent mistake can be perceived as an insult or a threat. In the case of the FETs, it was the cultural taboo of men searching women or even speaking to those they are not related to.
For example, traditionally, Afghan women are not supposed to be greeted by men outside of their families. Since 51 percent of the civilian population is female, this pretty much puts them off-limits to the male infantry soldiers that conduct most of the patrolling, intelligence gathering, and combat operations against the Taliban. The solution was to create specially-trained units to give female troops the skills to interact with Afghan females in situations where the male combat troops can't. The two week FET course consisted of training in patrolling, communications training, medical training, and hand to hand combat, among other things. Since the women serving in FETs are not infantry, much of the FET training covers crucial items for anyone operating with the infantry.
In Iraq the FETs were used mainly to search females, as having male troops do this often caused the entire family to go nuts. In Afghanistan the FETs were more effective at gathering intelligence as well as patting down the women for weapons or other contraband. In Afghanistan the FETs have been replaced by Afghan male troops who can get away with talking to women they are not related to without starting a riot. Being a Moslem and Afghan makes this possible.
FET teams ranged in size from two to six, or more, female troops. They were usually assigned to patrols or raiding teams. Some were used at intelligence centers where arrested locals were brought for interrogation. The marines collected all the training documents and reports by FET members for use to revive the program in the future. The names of all the female marines who served in FETs is also on hand, to call on veteran FET members (who are still in the marines) to help with training new ones.