Somali News

Kenyan women soldiers at the warfront

Isniin 24 October 2011 SMC

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By Patrick Mathangani

Are there Kenyan women soldiers battling Al-Shabaab? Curious people may want to know and the answer is yes.

Scores of women combatants have been deployed into Somalia, where they are fighting alongside men in the campaign to dislodge the al-Qaeda-linked militants.

They are among Kenya’s gallant soldiers called on duty to defend the nation from Al-Shabaab, arguably one of Africa’s cruelest militia.

Somalia, which has had no effective government since 1991, is also one of the world’s most dangerous places.

It takes a lot of courage to challenge militants in Somalia, where even US marines have given a wide berth since scores were killed during the now famous Battle for Mogadishu, in 1993.

The brave Kenyan women are in both infantry and armour units, which form the core of a land-based confrontation.

Infantry divisions comprise soldiers on foot, who face some of the most challenging situations in the battlefront. They carry out important roles because they are able to penetrate areas that would otherwise be inaccessible with vehicles.

"Yes, there are women in the frontline," said military spokesman Major Emmanuel Chirchir, "we even have one lady who is driving an armoured vehicle."

Armoured vehicles have thick, metal bodies. Different types are used for actual fighting as well as ferrying personnel. They usually have a hull from where a shooter or two operates. They are also mounted with huge guns.

Women in their ranks

The Kenya Army, Kenya Air Force and the navy all have women in their ranks. Until ten years ago, women in the military were members of the Women Service Corps (WSC). However, this unit was dissolved in December 1999, and women were moved to other formations of the military.

Today, they serve in important roles such as combatants, clerks, communication technicians, pilots, military police women and lawyers. Others serve as drivers, aircrew, engineers, doctors, nurses, logisticians and air traffic controllers.

Chirchir said the highest-ranking woman in the military is a colonel. In military circles, a colonel is a senior commissioned officer.

In many militaries, a colonel is usually the highest or second-highest field rank. The spokesman said Kenya’s women in the military are highly disciplined.

"They are as good as the men," Chirchir told The Standard.

Information provided by Kenya Air Force identifies Lieutenant NC Koech as its first female pilot. She enlisted in 2001 as a cadet, and made history when she became a pilot in 2006.

She has flown the Bulldog aircraft and now pilots the Y-12 plane, a China-made aircraft.

Koech joined the Flying Training School in 2001, becoming the first female flying trainee at the institution.

"My aspiration is to be a presidential pilot in the Fokker aircraft. My dream is to attain the rank of General in the Armed Forces and to be the first female Kenya Air Force Commander," she is quoted saying in the military’s website.

The chief legal advisor for the Air Force is also a woman identified as Captain YK Kirui.

Her duties include writing legal opinions, and arbitrating for the force.

"Hard work is always rewarding. I use my potential to the fullest by applying myself meaningfully at all tasks undertaken," Captain Kirui, a married mother of one child, is quoted saying.

Part and parcel

As late as 2001, there were no women officers in the Navy. Today, the highest ranking woman officer in the Navy is Lieutenant Colonel Betty Kenga, who works at its headquarters.

According to the Department of Defence, Kenya Navy presently has ten female officers and 115 service women.

"At this point in time Navy accepts women as part and parcel of its service. This new phenomena plays a permanent, leading role in the evolution of the Navy and may also be considered key in the institutional effort to provide women with the same legal rights as men," says the navy.

Until recently, women have not served in active duties in many countries.



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