BY Anya van Wagtendonk August 21, 2014 at 3:36 PM EDT
A woman Peshmerga fighter of the 2nd Battalion takes part in a military exercise. The 2nd Battalion is exclusively comprised of 550 female Peshmergas and is the only female official branch of the Kurdish National Army. Photo by Vianney Le Caer/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images
After Kurdish and Iraqi forces recaptured a critical Iraqi dam from Islamic State militants Monday, much attention turned to the role U.S. airstrikes may have played in securing a victory.
Less attention has been given to an increasingly fierce segment of the Kurdish security forces, known as the Peshmerga: female soldiers.
These fighters follow a tradition of Kurdish women warriors. One all-female unit of the Peshmerga has operated since 1996, when women began combat training in opposition to Saddam Hussein’s regime.
That unit’s commander, Col. Nahida Ahmed Rashid, says more women are enlisting today to defend Iraq’s Kurdish region from Islamic State extremists.