Female commandos make presence felt on Syrian battlefield

Female commandos make presence felt on Syrian battlefield

DAMASCUS - Perched on a makeshift bench taking turns with a sniper rifle, the Syrian army's top markswomen await their "prey" on the front line in east Damascus.

Sergeant Rim, 20, and Chief Sergeant Samar, 21, belong to the First Women's Commando Brigade of the Republican Guard, an elite unit stationed on some of the most dangerous battlegrounds on the outskirts of the Syrian capital.

There are roughly 800 soldiers in these all-female commando brigades, who face determined and entrenched rebels to the east and southeast of Damascus.

Rim and Samar's Russian-made SV-98 rifle pokes out through a small hole in the side of a building in the Jobar district.

In front of them is a scene of devastation. There is no sign of life amid the rubble and burned-out vehicles.

But looks can be deceiving - the ground beneath the commandos is crisscrossed with tunnels and death lurks at every corner.

The building where the women lie in wait is less than 200 metres (yards) from rebel lines. It is defended entirely by female commandos.

Their commander describes them as the finest markswomen in the brigade.

"It's true that we have a lot of patience, and this is the most important quality for a sniper," Rim says shyly.

'Not a question of gender'

A fearsome warrior hides behind her eye make-up and childlike smile - she boasts a record of 11 kills in a day.

"My commander gave me a sort of certificate, like in school," she says, smiling.

"I usually hit three or four targets per day, and honestly, if I miss a gunman, I could cry," she says.

Her fellow sniper's record is seven kills in a day.

From another vantage point in the same building, a third female commando opens fire with a B-10 recoilless rifle, a much bigger weapon that is usually mounted on wheels or a tripod.

"It has hit the target," Zeinab says proudly after one 82 mm round causes a terrifying explosion in a building 500 metres (yards) away.

The 21-year-old says she chose a career in the army after finishing her bachelor's degree. Her friends and family encouraged her decision and, after three months of intensive training, she joined the commandos.

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