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Syrian Regime Forms All-female Military Force in Kurdish Heartland

The following article was originally published in Voice of America.

The Syrian government has created an all-female military unit in a predominantly Kurdish city in northeastern Syria where U.S.-led Kurdish forces have been battling Islamic State.

Jazya Sheikh Ali, a leading member of the ruling Baath Party, told the pro-Syrian Lebanese al-Jadeed TV that the unit will be comprised of volunteers and will have no minimum age requirements. At least 150 women have been recruited, Ali said, and will get “intensive training” on how to use small arms and staff checkpoints.

A video posted Tuesday on Facebook by a Kurdish activist in the city shows women in Syrian military garb training outside Qamishli.

Since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011, the government has maintained a minimal military presence in the Kurdish region. Syrian troops in 2012 withdrew from most of the cities and towns in the north and northeastern part of the country to focus on fighting rebel groups elsewhere.

In Qamishli, the largest Kurdish city in Syria, a small contingent of Syrian troops stayed on the outskirts of the city, leaving it mostly to Kurdish control. Fierce clashes broke out last summer as Kurdish forces attempted to widen that control. But Syrian forces prevailed, leaving an uneasy detente in the region.

The new female military unit is comprised of ethnic Arab women from the city, which could inflame ethnic tensions, local analysts say. The women are expected to bolster the male force in the Syrian Arab army, which has been depleted through fighting with rebels and Islamic State militants elsewhere in Syria.

“The [Syrian] government wants to send a message to the local Kurdish administration that they are willing to come back to this area,” said Dilovan Cheto, a political analyst based in Qamishli.

Cheto told VOA the Syrian military is suffering from a severe shortage of male soldiers, and the Syrian government believes female recruits “such as this unit empower their ranks.”

Syrian forces appear ready to reassert control in the Kurdish region after driving rebels from Aleppo, some 400 kilometers to the west, Cheto said.

‘Propaganda material’

Kurdish units headquartered in the city and known as People Protection Units (YPG) have been a linchpin in the U.S.-led coalition in the fight against IS south of Qamishli.

Strengthened militarily, the YPG appear firmly in military control of Qamishli.

Ekrem Salih, a local reporter who follows military moves in the region, said the addition of an all-female unit is merely “propaganda material.”

“I don’t think this will change anything as far as local military dynamics,” he told VOA. “The YPG doesn’t accept any military competitor on the ground. Therefore, this unit won’t achieve any goals for the regime.”

Reached by VOA, YPG officials declined to comment on the female unit.

The YPG, too, has an all-female arm called the YPJ, which has joined in combat against IS fighters.

This article was originally published in Voice of America.

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