TODAY   |  September 29, 2012

Opportunity, education for girls in Afghanistan

Girls in Afghanistan were not allowed to attend school under Taliban rule, but now millions of girls across the country attend classes. It’s a dramatic social change the Taliban is still fighting. NBC’s Richard Engel reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> american troops have been here in afghanistan for nearly 11 years. there is a growing population of afghans who have come of age since then. they no longer want to be defined by the struggles of their parents, the soviet invasion , civil war , and the rise of the taliban . richard engel is nbc's chief foreign correspondent. richard , good to see you.

>> it's good to see you here. this war has been going on a long time. the afghans remember when it started. some of the kids were just 5 and 6 years old that we spoke to. there have been some improvements for afghan people . but as we saw, it has not won the american people a lot of loyalty or many thank yous.

>> reporter: there has been undeniable progress for afghans because of america's longest war . without it, many of the newborns at this kabul clinic delivered premature or after complicated pregnancies wouldn't be alive. the director of this clinic wouldn't be here either if it weren't for the war. the taliban banned women from top professions.

>> it was the first time in afghanistan , i think, that a lady leading this unit.

>> reporter: just a few blocks away, more changes. thousands of girls going to school. the taliban banned girls education and used this school as the headquarters. under the taliban , almost no girls went to school. now nearly three million do. in fact, about 35% of all school children in this country are girls. it's a dramatic social change the taliban is still fighting. we met this 17-year-old. bright, pretty, smart, she wants to be an economist someday. but like everyone here, she worries about what will happen after the americans leave.

>> maybe a past situation, like women were not able to go out. they were just allowed to stay at home and do the home chores.

>> reporter: she returned from pakistan with her family after the taliban fell. her family is making contingency plans to leave again.

>> who knows what happens in future. i'm real concerned.

>> reporter: this 15-year-old is the top student in her class. a fan of beyonce and other american poll culture, she isn't convinced the u.s. did any good here. do you think that the americans should or should not have come to afghanistan ?

>> what can i say? leave us guys alone.

>> reporter: the war has been too long. too many deaths.

>> reporter: you think it's time to leave?

>> yeah. pack up and go.

>> reporter: if the united states hasn't won the heart and mind of this 15-year-old, what about the rest of afghans?

>> richard , the fact that a generation is now coming of age post- taliban , is that in itself the best defense of the taliban coming back into power, folks who would stand firm?

>> maybe not. the taliban is an armed group. these schoolgirls are not going to fight against the taliban . they are all very worried about what is going to happen in this country. and we've spoken to politicians, political analysts, and they think after these troops leave that there could be a civil war in this country, and many afghans now don't remember 9/11. they just remember ten years of war. and they're asking themselves why? why did this happen? why did we have to have all of this war for ten years?

>> 300,000 afghan troops, local police , national police have been trained. the strategy to get these folks home is to turn it over to afghan troops. questions about readiness and supplies and that sort of thing. but are they fighting an enemy who has an organization -- are the taliban fragmented? are they the fighting force that they used to be?

>> there are many groups. we all call them the taliban . there's different groups that fall under the umbrella of the taliban . right now the afghan security forces have an advantage. they have the upper hand because they have american fire power , air power behind them. once the americans leave, it will be a much more even fight with the taliban and other militant groups here.

>> all right, richard . thanks again.