WASHINGTON (AP) — Secretary of State John Kerry and his predecessor, Hillary Rodham Clinton, say Afghanistan is reaching a turning point that will be critical to maintaining advances made by women since the end of Taliban rule.

Kerry says Afghan women and girls have made great progress since 2001, enjoying greater access to education, health care and technology.

But he says many women are concerned that the country could return to the days of Taliban control, when girls were barred from attending school and women were forced indoors.

The U.S. and Afghan government are negotiating whether to leave in place a small U.S. combat force after 2014.

Kerry says Afghan women need a seat at the table of any peace negotiations and the rights of both men and women must be respected.