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Syria Creates All-Female Force in Kurdish Area

A Syrian girl from Aleppo looks outside a window of an abandoned building where her and several families took refuge due to fighting between Free Syrian Army fighters and government forces in the northeastern city of Qamishli, Syria, Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013. (AP Photo/Manu Brabo)
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The Syrian government has created an all-female military unit in a mostly Kurdish city in the northeastern part of the country. It is the same city in which American-led Kurdish forces have been fighting Islamic State militants.

Jazya Sheikh Ali is a leader of the ruling Baath Party. He told the pro-Syrian Lebanese al-Jadeed TV that the unit will be made up of volunteers. It will have no minimum age requirement. He said at least 150 women have been recruited for the unit. He said they will receive, in his words, “intensive training” on how to use small weapons and guard checkpoints.

A Kurdish activist in the city posted a Facebook video of the military unit. The video shows women in Syrian military clothing training near Qamishli, the largest Kurdish city in Syria.

Since the Syrian civil war began in 2011, the government has kept only a small number of troops in the Kurdish region. In 2012, Syrian troops withdrew from most of the cities and towns in the north and northeastern part of the country. That is because they were needed to fight rebels in other parts of the country.

A small group of Syrian troops was based outside Qamishli. They let Kurds control the city. But last summer, the Kurds tried to increase the territory they controlled. The Syrian troops stopped the Kurds from doing so.

The fighting between the two groups has ended, but the tension between them remains.

The members of the new all-female military unit are ethnic Arabs. Local observers say they could worsen ethnic tensions. The women are being used to strengthen the Syrian Arab Army.

Fighting the rebels and the Islamic State terrorist group in other parts of Syria has weakened the army.

Dilovan Cheto is a political expert in Qamishli. He told VOA that the all-female unit was formed because, in his words, “the (Syrian) government wants to send a message to the local Kurdish administration that they are willing to come back to this area.”

Cheto said the Syrian military is suffering from a severe shortage of male soldiers. He said the Syrian government believes women can help strengthen the army.

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

Kurdish units headquartered in Qamishli are known as People Protection Units, or YPG. These units have helped the U.S.-led coalition fight Islamic State militants south of the city. They appear to be in control of Qamishli.

Ekrem Salih reports on military activities in the area. He called the all-female unit “propaganda material.”

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

YPG officials would not talk to VOA about the female unit.

The YPG has its own all-female unit called the YPJ. It has joined in combat against IS fighters.

I’m Caty Weaver.

VOA News Writer Sirwan Kajjo wrote this story. Christopher Jones-Cruise adapted it for Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.

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Words in This Story

unit – n. a single thing, person, or group that is a part of something larger

minimum – adj. the lowest number or amount that is possible or allowed - usually singular

recruit – v. to find suitable people and get them to join a company, an organization, the armed forces, etc.

checkpoint – n. a place where people, cars, etc., are searched by someone (such as a police officer) before being allowed to continue

region – n. a part of a country, of the world, etc., that is different or separate from other parts in some way

dynamic – n. the way that two or more people behave with each other because of a particular situation

regime – n. a form of government