Women of Taez take up arms against Yemen’s rebels
TAEZ // Nosaiba Abdullah’s seven-year-old-son Ahmed was killed when Houthi rebels shelled Taez city’s Al Roudha district. Now, Kalashnikov in hand, she is ready to take on the rebels as a sniper for the popular resistance.
The 33-year-old widow is among the first batch of 26 women recruits trained by the pro-government forces to join battle against the rebels. Young and intrepid, many of them have lost loved ones in the fight for control of the city, which has been surrounded by the rebels.
After two weeks of training, most of them will be deployed as snipers. Others have started working at police stations or in intelligence gathering.
At the training grounds in Zaid Al Moshki school last week, Ms Abdullah, wearing a headscarf and a military jacket over her abaya, was honing her rifle technique.
“When I lost my only son, I decided to join the resistance to protect other young children and make sure this doesn’t happen to them,” she told The National.
Widowed five years ago, Ms Abdullah said she now had nothing to lose after her son’s death at the start of this month.
“I do not need money from the resistance,” Ms Abdullah said. On the contrary, she sold her jewellery to buy her Kalashnikov.
“I am interested in joining the front at the 40-Metre Street as a sniper,” she said, referring to an area in the west of the city.
There have been fierce clashes in several areas in Taez city, capital of the southern province of the same name. While the Houthis control the entrance points, areas inside the city are divided between the rebels and the resistance.
Outside the city, resistance fighters and forces from the regional Saudi-led coalition have so far recaptured only Bab El Mandab and Dhubab areas on the coast, while the fight to regain the Red Sea port of Mokha continues.
Back at the training school, women crouch with their Kalashnikovs, trying to get the target right. They are trained to aim, fire and move immediately in case of retaliation from an unseen enemy. They are sturdy, quick on their feet, and focused.
This is a pilot project for the resistance, and while the women’s role is limited to sniping, many are keen to fight on the front line if called upon.
“I have no experience of fighting, but if there is a need, I will go to the front line,” Ms Abdullah said.
In Yemen’s conservative society, with its deeply ingrained views on women’s traditional roles, Ms Abdullah said it was natural to receive mixed reactions, yet she was overwhelmed by the positive response to her taking up arms.
Another woman recruit, Amal, 25, signed up after she saw the Houthis infiltrating neighbourhoods in the city without the resistance being aware.
“I joined the resistance to work on the investigative side, so that I can provide information about the Houthis’ presence in Taez,” said Amal, who is single and says she has the support of her family.
However, she has no reservations about training as a sniper if needed. “I will start my new role in 10 days,” she said eagerly.
After the graduation of the first batch last week, Capt Moa’ath Al Yasri, in charge of training the fighters, said: “Seven women joined the resistance after they lost one of their relatives, or family members. Most of the women are between the ages of 20 and 35.”
The women do not have military uniforms, flak jackets or other protective gear. Given the resistance’s limited finances, Capt Al Yasri said, they would fight in abayas while wearing military scarves to distinguish them as resistance members.
Rashad Al Sharab, spokesman of the popular resistance in Taez, said the recruitment of women would continue until the Houthi rebels surrendered.
Taez city, known as Yemen’s cultural capital, is in ruins after six months of warfare between the rebels and the resistance, which is backed by the Saudi-led coalition seeking to restore president Abdrabu Mansur Hadi’s internationally recognised government.
With public buildings obliterated and acute shortages of water, food and fuel, people are weary and keen for the fighting to end.
Residents say that with the coalition’s focus on the coastal areas of the province, the resistance in Taez city has received little support against the Houthis. Hence, a majority welcome the women as snipers as this will put added pressure on the rebels .
“The leadership was inspired to train them after some women started to fight the Houthis in Saber mountain in Taez city of their own accord,” Mr Al Sharab said.
More women are expected to join the resistance in coming weeks, he said, as the first batch was a pilot project to gauge the effectiveness of women fighters in the war.
Updated: October 18, 2015 04:00 AM