UAE’s 1st female fighter pilot carried out anti-IS strikes

Updated 26 September 2014

UAE’s 1st female fighter pilot carried out anti-IS strikes

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates: The first female air force pilot in the United Arab Emirates led airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria earlier this week, the federation’s ambassador to Washington said on Thursday as he pledged his country will do “whatever is necessary” to defeat the militant group.
Social media has been buzzing with rumors that F-16 pilot Maj. Mariam Al-Mansouri played a part in attacks against the jihadist group, with many users taking delight in the rebuke it implied toward the militants’ ultraconservative ideology.
Ambassador Yousef Al-Otaiba’s comments were the first public confirmation of her role.
“She is a fully qualified, highly trained, combat-ready pilot, and she led the mission,” Al-Otaiba said during an appearance on American cable channel MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” The Emirati embassy quickly posted word of the diplomat’s confirmation on its official Twitter feed.
The Emirates, a seven-state federation that includes the capital of Abu Dhabi and the Mideast commercial hub of Dubai, is one of five Arab countries that have joined the US-led coalition carrying out the airstrikes in Syria. It is a major buyer of American-made weapons, with an arsenal that includes F-16 fighter planes and Apache attack helicopters.
Al-Mansouri was born in Abu Dhabi and graduated from the country’s Khalifa bin Zayed Air College in 2007, according to a profile earlier this year in the government-owned newspaper The National. She is one of eight children and has a degree in English literature.
“Sorry #ISIS, I know this too much and so harsh but it’s real,” taunted Twitter user @kafrev, which purports to represent an opposition-held town in Syria, using an alternate name for the Islamic State group. “A woman bombed you!“
Emirati leaders have taken steps to raise the status of women in the oil-rich country, which has modernized rapidly since its formation in 1971 and is now home to a cosmopolitan blend of foreign businesspeople, expatriate professionals and low-paid migrant workers who together far outnumber the local population.
While traditional values remain strong and men dominate government posts, Emirati women have served as government ministers, police officers and executives in state-linked companies.
Al-Otaiba linked Al-Mansouri’s role to the campaign to defeat the Islamic State group.
“Do you want a model or a society that allows women to become ministers in government, female fighter pilots, business executives, artists? Or do you want a society where if a woman doesn’t cover up in public she’s beaten or she’s lashed or she’s raped? This is ultimately what this breaks down to,” he said.
It is important that moderate Arab and Muslim nations take a stand against the Islamic State militants, Al-Otaiba said, describing the group as “a threat to our way of life.”
“We will bring whatever is necessary to defeat ISIS,” he added.


Assad forces mass for new attack on opposition stronghold

Updated 8 min 58 sec ago

Assad forces mass for new attack on opposition stronghold

  • Troops drive north toward Turkish border
  • Kurdish buffer zone ‘fully operational’

BEIRUT: Assad regime troops massed in northwest Syria on Saturday in preparation for a new drive north toward the border with Turkey.

The border region of Idlib is the last bastion of the Syrian opposition. Until last week, it was controlled by Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham, an alliance led by Syria’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate.

Regime forces backed by Russian airstrikes captured the key town of Khan Sheikhun from the militants on Wednesday, and on Friday they overran the countryside to the south of the town.

“The day after they controlled the area south of Khan Sheikhun, regime forces began massing in the area north of it,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. They were “preparing to continue their advance toward the area of Maaret Al-Noman,” a town about 25km north, he said.

Heavy bombardment hit the area on Saturday in preparation for a further push north. Thick gray smoke billowed up into a clear blue sky after a strike on the outskirts of Maaret Al-Noman. Like Khan Sheikhun, the town sits on the main highway between Damascus and Aleppo, a key target for the regime to recapture.

However, the new offensive that began in April has heightened tension with Turkey, which fears an influx of refugees fleeing the fighting. Turkish troops have been deployed at 12 observation posts around the Idlib region in an attempt to set up a buffer zone to protect civilians.

FAST FACTS

  • The border region of Idlib is the last bastion of the Syrian opposition.
  • Turkish troops have been deployed at 12 observation posts around the Idlib region.

The regime accuses Turkey of using the observation posts to arm and supply the militants. Last week, airstrikes targeted a Turkish military convoy traveling south down the main highway toward one of the posts at Morek. The convoy was still stranded on Saturday north of Khan Sheikhun.

Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu denied the Morek observation post had been surrounded and said Turkish troops would not withdraw from the position.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will visit Moscow on Tuesday for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Further east in Syria, a joint Turkish-US control center to establish and manage a safe zone is fully operational, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said. 

“The command of the center is by one US general and one Turkish general,” he said, and the first joint helicopter flight took place on Saturday after Turkish drones carried out surveillance work in the safe zone last week.

Syrian Kurds said on Saturday they would support the implementation of the buffer zone. The Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) played a key role in the battle against Daesh in Syria, but Ankara views them as terrorists.

“The SDF will be a positive party toward the success of this operation,” said Mazloum Kobani, head of the YPG-led Syrian Democratic Forces.