Last week Syrians online and off were introduced to an all-female battalion armed by the government to back the rule of Bashar Al Assad.
The women fighters are part of the recently formed National Defense Force, a civilian militia that will reportedly include the notorious irregular fighters known as the shabiha. The female group was first established in Homs, the central Syrian city that was a prominent upstart of the revolution until the Syrian military intervened and destroyed many Sunni neighborhoods — the rebel strongholds within the city.
In videos posted to YouTube, the women’s brigade pledged its support for Syria’s president. They conducted military drills while chanting for Assad’s Syria, repeating what have been common slogans in the country over decades of single-family rule. One video of their training (below) showed older and obese women in the ranks.
Independent analysts and the regime itself cite the continued strength of Assad’s army, saying there have been relatively few high-level defections over 18 months of armed conflict. Yet the fact that the regime is recruiting civilians (especially women) into the fight suggests it may be running low on conventional soldiers.
Online, opposition activists responded to the women”s brigade with mockery and contempt. They made this video, contrasting fit and attractive female soldiers from the U.S. and Europe with what they see as unattractive women in the pro-Assad militia. But one Facebook page linked to students at Aleppo University took a more empathetic tone, urging Assad’s women fighters to put their own welfare ahead of the survival of an embattled regime.
Syrian social media pages regularly expose gruesome images. Facebook and YouTube are used to chronicle brutal crimes and disseminate images of unidentified corpses, as a de facto death notice to their families. This week they surfaced the photograph of a 20-year-old man who allegedly died of starvation while imprisoned at the Air Force Intelligence Branch in Aleppo.
Life — as a battle for survival — is also documented amid the destruction in Syria. In the video below, a soldier escapes death after his tank takes a direct hit from a missile. (A longer video of the operation can be seen here).