The future of the Syrian Civil War now hinges on the country’s most populous city. Once the center of the country’s anti-regime uprising, Aleppo is one of the last remaining strongholds of the secularist Free Syrian Army and is split between regime, rebel, and jihadist spheres of control.
The country’s remaining nationalist rebels and the Assad regime both consider the city crucial to victory in the country’s four-year-old conflict. The Assad regime has shown signs of strain recently, cutting vital subsidies and banning military-aged men from leaving the country in order to maintain its supply of usable troops.
Even so, Assad is dedicating resources to the fight there, reportedly closing in on remaining rebel positions in Aleppo and leaving only road connecting rebel-held areas to anti-regime positions inside the city.
The deciding battles for control of the city could unfold in the coming months. And an all-female brigade affiliated with the Free Syrian Army might take part in it.
The Mother Aisha Brigade is “made up mostly of university students and graduates from throughout the country,” the Washington Institute for Near East Policy’s Adam Heffez wrote in Ha’aretz in mid-2013.
The group isn’t jihadist and is affiliated with the more secular wing of Syria’s anti-regime groups. But it still has a sectarian character to it: as Haffez wrote in Al-Monitor, the brigade “takes its name from one of the Prophet Muhammad’s wives who is revered in Sunni Islam but viewed unfavorably in Shiism (and its Alawite offshoot).”
Assad and much of the regime elite belongs to Syria’s Alawite religious minority, while many of the groups opposing his government identify with the country’s Sunni Muslim majority.
Here are some of the most striking Reuters images of the Mother Aisha Brigade in action.
Members of the all-female Mother Aisha Brigade carry weapons as they walk along the Aleppo Castle frontline on January 3, 2015.
Umm Mohammad, a masters graduate and commander of the Mother Aisha battalion, speaks on a walkie-talkie in front of a Free Syrian Army police station in Aleppo on January 3, 2015
According to Reuters, “The women who make up this force not only operate as fighters on the Old Aleppo frontline, but are also in charge of two field hospitals for injured fighters and a police station for women detainees.”
Members of the battalion undergo military training in Aleppo’s Salaheddine district on September 19, 2013.
Battalion members sit together along a street in Aleppo’s Salaheddine district on September 19, 2013
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