The United Arab Emirates on Thursday confirmed rumors that its first — and so far only — female fighter pilot flew as part of the U.S.-led mission to strike targets in Syria. Not only did she fly, an official said, she led and will continue to lead the UAE’s pilots assigned to future missions against the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS).
On Monday night, the United States and five Arab nations launched the first airstrikes against ISIS positions in Syria, after months of American pilots taking on the group in Iraq. Among the Arab countries, the United Arab Emirates sent four F-16 pilots into combat. Soon after, rumors began circulating that Major Mariam Al Mansouri, who last year became the first female Emirati Air Force pilot, had taken part in the mission.
After Fox News’ Brett Bair tweet on Wednesday that he had verified that Mansouri was the team leader for the fighter pilot wing, Emirati Ambassador to the U.S. Yousef al Otaiba officially confirmed the news on MSNBC. “I got a lot of e-mails yesterday about the story and I finally got the approval,” Otaiba said. “So, here it goes: on ‘Morning Joe,’ I can officially confirm that the UAE strike mission on Monday night was led by a female fighter pilot.” He added that she is “fully qualified, highly trained combat ready pilot and she led the mission.”
Mansouri joined the Emerati Air Force in 2007, soon after the country began allowing women to join. According to an interview with Deraa Al Watan magazine last year, before she was allowed to join up, Mansouri “bided her time by spending several years working for General Command before becoming the first woman to join the airforce when the academy finally opened its doors to female recruits.” In the interview she said that competing with her male counterparts was never an issue, instead saying she “focused on competing with herself to improve her skills.”
The U.S. pilots taking part in the mission had apparently not heard Mansouri’s story before, according to an anecdote from Otaiba. “Actually, funny story is the U.S. tanker pilots called in for air refueling and asked for the UAE mission and when they heard a female voice on the other side they paused for 20 seconds,” he said. But despite rumors that ISIS is afraid of female soldiers and pilots, the opposite turns out to be true. As Vox has noted, ISIS itself has all-female battalions, called “al-Khansaa” and “Umm al-Rayan,” that operate in Syria. “ISIS female fighters wear full burqas and carry rifles; they exist to force other women to comply with ISIS’s vision of sharia law,” Vox reported.
Meanwhile, the hosts of Fox News’ The Five were impressed with Mansouri’s role in the ISIS campaign, but chose an odd way to show it. “The problem is, after she bombed it, she couldn’t park it,” Greg Gutfeld said. “Would that be considered boobs on the ground, or no?” added Eric Bolling. Watch the exchange here:
Amid all the recent attention given her, Mansouri is continuing to fly missions against ISIS. On Wednesday evening, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and U.S. struck several oil wells the militant group controlled in the eastern part of the country. In all, U.S. Central Command said in a statement, the coalition used “a mix of fighter and remotely piloted aircraft to conduct 13 of airstrikes against 12 ISIL-controlled modular oil refineries,” using the U.S. government’s preferred acronym for the group. “These small-scale refineries provided fuel to run ISIL operations, money to finance their continued attacks throughout Iraq and Syria, and an economic asset to support their future operations. Producing between 300–500 barrels of refined petroleum per day, ISIL is estimated to generate as much as $2 million per day from these refineries.”
This article has been updated to include video of Fox News’ reaction to Mansouri’s story. Also, a previous update to this article indicated that reports in Arabic media said that Mansouri’s family has reportedly disavowed her. As this claim has not been fully confirmed, it has been stricken from the article.