Abdul Khaliq / AP
Police colleagues and relatives grieve over the body Nigar, a top police officer in Helmand province. She died after being shot while leaving her home on Sunday.
KABUL, Afghanistan -- One of Afghanistan's most senior female police officers has been shot dead just months after her predecessor was also gunned down, highlighting the dangers women in positions of authority face as the country prepares for the withdrawal of most Western troops next year.
Sub-inspector Nigar, who was known by one name, was leaving her house on her way to work on Sunday when motorcycle gunmen shot her in the neck, provincial government spokesman Omar Zawak said. The 38-year-old was taken to a local hospital but died from her injuries early Monday, he added.
"This is a very big loss for us," Zawak said. "She was a very brave woman, it will be very difficult for us to replace her. She was very productive, participating in all kinds of operations. She never said 'no' to anything we asked of her. She was an inspiration to other female police officers in Helmand."
Restoring the right for women to work outside the home and receive an education have been cornerstones of President Hamid Karzai's U.S.-backed government, but patriarchal attitudes are still strong.
Nigar recently replaced Helmand's former senior commanding female officer Islam Bibi, who was gunned down by insurgents in July.
She had been an outspoken advocate for the recruitment of female police officers in Afghanistan. According to the country's Interior Ministry, about 2,200 of the 157,000 members of the Afghan National Police force are women -- under two percent.
Shah Marai / AFP - Getty Images
More than ten years after the beginning of the war, Afghanistan faces external pressure to reform as well as ongoing internal conflicts.
The shooting happened in an area dominated by conservative Pashtun culture, the same ethnicity that produced the Taliban and the vast majority of Afghanistan's leaders.
No group has so far claimed responsibility for the shooting.
While the Taliban have targeted prominent women, honor killings by conservative male relatives are also common in Afghanistan.
Nevertheless, the shooting follows a string of violent incidents involving prominent women.
In August, a female lawmaker and her three young children were kidnapped by Taliban gunmen as she made her way to celebration to mark the Muslim holiday of Eid. They were later released in exchange for the release of militants.
Also in August, a female senator and her husband were injured and their daughter killed when they were ambushed on a section of highway prone to Taliban attacks.
Under the Taliban, which United States-backed forces toppled in 2001, women were forced to wear the head-to-toe covering burqa, permitted only limited schooling and prevented from leaving home unaccompanied.
Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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This story was originally published on Mon Sep 16, 2013 8:17 AM EDT