Yemen's elite female counter-terrorism force takes on Al Qaeda
Combating the increasing threat of Al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula, the 42 women in Yemen's elite counter-terrorism unit do all the jobs that the men do, plus the jobs they won't do.
| Sanaa, Yemen
• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.
Kneeling on the ground, a row of women in black face masks squint their eyes, taking aim with their AK-47s before releasing rounds into stationary targets at a shooting range eight miles outside the capital, Sanaa. The female contingent of Yemen’s elite Counter Terrorism Unit (CTU) trains here five days a week alongside the men, running drills and target practice.
In the conservative Muslim country, the 42 women of the CTU do jobs only women can. They conduct house, family, and female body searches as the Yemeni government battles the increasing threat of Al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula.
“The men are in the first line. If the mission needs us to shoot, we do,” says Lt. Qobol al-Saadi, one of the two first female officers of the CTU, who graduated from the Royal Military Academy in Britain in 2009. Now, Yemen’s CTU women complete basic training on a Yemeni-base alongside the men. The first class of 17 finished the training in January 2010.
Sgt. Takia al-Zahri has been with the CTU for almost two years. Standing at attention, she is still no higher than 5 feet tall and knows she is breaking the mold. “For society it’s something strange, for me, that’s what I want to be doing,” she says of her service, “First, because I want to be part of the soldiers and officers who secure this country; second, for women; and lastly, because I love this country.” Other women agree.
Now the women command men and run drills with the male soldiers. “There’s no difference between females and males, we do everything the boys do,” says Lt. Fathia al-Hammdi, who has commanded male units. “At first they didn’t accept us, the men here thought it was strange. Command is command, but there is still culture here.... They’ll get used to it,” she smiles.