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Nelvin Cepeda / San Diego Union-Tribune
Girls place their burqas on before leaving the school grounds.
By Marcus Stern
Copley News Service

MAZAR-E-SHARIF, Afghanistan -- Once, it was a girls school. Then the Taliban closed it, using it first as a mass burial site and then as a barracks. In November 2001, a U.S. F/A-18 jet dropped two 1,000-pound bombs on it. Then the U.S. military rebuilt it. Now, it's a girls school again.

Sultan Razia High School's turmoil in the past 10 years reflects the country's upheaval and its hopes for the future. Today, 6,000 girls of all ages swarm in and out of the school's gates throughout the day.

Inside, furniture is spare. Many of the girls sit on their own burkas, garments that cover them from

"To provide a sense of what the impact of these projects really is, I have some before and after pictures," he said. "This is the Sultan Razia High School... before and after. The Army Civil Affairs teams restored it, inside and out, refurbished floors, replaced windows and restored electricity."

The $200,000 reconstruction project included 32 classrooms, two bathrooms and a kitchen. In September, the school was used as a polling place for women voting in Afghanistan's first parliamentary elections since 1973.
head to toe when they're in public. Some arrive at school with a plastic lawn chair slung over a shoulder for use in the classroom. Some sit in chairs donated by India.

For drinking water, the school has a single well.

But many educators here see it as a reflection of one of the most positive changes since the fall of the Taliban regime four years ago -- the return of girls to school.

And the Bush administration has used the school as an example of progress in reconstruction. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld showcased the school during an appearance on CNN.