Meet the Kurdish Women Fighting ISIS in Syria

NBCNews – Thursday, 11 Sept 2014 (originally published 10Sept)

Women soldiers
YPJ Captain Ronahi Anduk, 34, left, Gian Dirik, center, and Dirsim Judi, 18, right, work on a Dushka weapon in the town of Til Kocer, Syria. Image: Erin Trieb / for NBC News

In the dry and desolate land along Syria’s northeastern border, thousands of young Kurdish women have taken up arms to protect their people against attacks from Bashar Assad’s government, ISIS militants and the al Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front.

Some 7,000 volunteer soldiers have joined the Women’s Protection Unit, or YPJ, which grew out of the wider Kurdish resistance movement. The group is strongly associated with the PKK, an organization fighting for the rights of Kurds in neighboring Turkey that has been designated a terrorist group by the U.S. State Department. Alongside Kurdish Peshmerga forces, the YPJ has been battling against Islamic militants who have seized large areas of Iraq and Syria and declared a cross-border caliphate.

Young YPJ recruits participate in drills at dawn near Derek City in Rojava, the Kurdish area of Syria. The schedule is demanding and requires discipline: new soldiers in training get about 6 hours of sleep a night and wake up at 4 a.m; their day consists of a full schedule of drills and classroom lessons. Before joining the YPJ, many of the girls had never participated in physical activity or sports . . .

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