In fall 2014 when the Islamic State terrorist group (ISIS) laid siege to the northern Syrian city of Kobani, they were met with resistance — and ultimately defeat — from opposing Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), including an all-female unit, known as the YPJ Women’s Protection Unit. Author Gayle Tzemach Lemmon recounts the efforts of this female fighting force that took on ISIS in a new book “The Daughters of Kobani: A Story of Rebellion, Courage, and Justice,” released Feb. 16.
Lemmon said of the story, which Hillary Clinton’s new production company, HiddenLight Productions, has already obtained the film rights to, “I hope that as many people as possible will get to know both the intensity of this struggle, but also the humor, the love, the persistence of the women who fought ISIS and also just their humanity.”
Speaking with American Military News, Lemmon said “The Daughters of Kobani” is the product of hundreds of hours of research and interviews she conducted across seven trips to the region.
Lemmon, who previously wrote New York Times bestsellers “Ashley’s War: The Untold Story of a Team of Women Soldiers on the Special Ops Battlefield” (2015) and “The Dressmaker of Khair Khana” (2011) said she first learned about the role all-female units played in the Seige of Kobani from one of her interview subjects in “Ashley’s War.”
“One of the soldiers from ‘Ashley’s War’ called me and said ‘you have to come to Syria, you have to see what’s going on,” Lemmon said. “There are women who are leading the fight against ISIS in the field and they’re not just leading men and women in battle, but also they have huge respect from the U.S. side.”
Lemmon said one of her first introductions to the women of the YPJ fighting force came during a 2017 trip she took to the Syrian city of Raqqa. While Lemmon and fellow observers were walking the city in body armor and kevlar helmets, she said one of the YPJ commanders she met was simply walking through the city with just a scarf on her head for protection. Meanwhile, just feet away, Lemmon recalled seeing the still smoking wreckage from a recently exploded car bomb.
“You realize that for them, this is just another day in the fight,” Lemmon said. “This is their commute to the fight.”
Lemmon said the professionalism and fighting spirit of these all-female units played a key part in earning the respect and trust of U.S. military forces who came to assist in the fight against ISIS.
“Some of the most elite soldiers in the United State military worked with these women and they really had enormous respect for them as warriors,” Lemmon said. “One of them even said, ‘In the beginning, I wasn’t sure and I’d never worked with women in a partner force’ and by the end he was talking about how he really wanted his daughters to be like these women, with their commitment, with their courage, with their resilience.”
Rojda Felat is one of the YPJ commanders whose life story Lemmon recounts in her book. Lemmon said her book captures details from Felat’s childhood through to her taking on a leadership role in the fighting in Kobani and then to the fighting to free the city of Raqqa from ISIS control.
Lemmon said one of the lasting effects of the efforts of these women, is that equality remains a key organizational aspect of the Syrian Democratic Forces as they continue to fight ISIS.
“The civil councils, the governing bodies of their towns are still run one man – one woman. The women’s councils are still in place,” Lemmon said. “There is a fragile but very real stability that still stays to this day, and that is thanks to so many of these women and the men they fight alongside.”