Meet the Badass Woman Leading the UAE Air Strikes Against the Islamic State

The news: If you don't recognize the name Maj. Mariam Al Mansouri, it's time to educate yourself. 

The 35-year-old pilot is the first female member of the United Arab Emirates' air force, and on Tuesday she employed an impressive amount of girl power. Al Mansouri led a squadron of UAE F-16 jets over Islamic State strongholds in northern Syria, becoming the first female to lead a mission in the country's history

Although the UAE did not officially comment, the country's ambassador confirmed to the United States that she led the charge.

"I can officially confirm that the UAE strike mission on Monday night was led by female fighter pilot Mariam Al Mansouri," Yousef Al Otaiba told Morning Joe. "She is a fully qualified, highly trained, combat-ready pilot, and she led the mission."

The UAE is one of five Arab nations, along with Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar and Bahrain, to join the international coalition designed to halt the advance of the Islamic State in the region.


Is this a big deal? The UAE's track record in regards to women's rights is a rocky one. The country claims to rank No. 1 in the world in terms of respecting woman, and while women do have access to education and health services, traditional gender roles are "ingrained," Reuters reports. As a result, women make up barely 14% of the country's workforce, and until Al Mansouri, military service was virtually out of the question.

Human Rights Watch reports that the UAE has extremely weak protections against domestic violence; marital rape is not recognized and the law permits men to discipline their wives physically. When they report sexual violence, too many risk being imprisoned for adultery. 

What do we know about her? Since she was a teenager, Al Mansouri dreamed of becoming a pilot for country's armed forces. Born in Abu Dhabi, she graduated from high school with a 93% average before attending United Arab Emirates University to study English literature. 

Al Mansouri joined the air force in 2007 after the military announced that Khalifa bin Zayed Air College would begin accepting female cadets. She said "it was her love for the UAE and her passion for challenge and competition that drew her to the field of aviation."

During her career, Al Mansouri has taken part in a "significant number of the aerial maneuvers both inside and outside the UAE alongside allied and friendly states," according to F-16.net, a website devoted to fighter pilots. She was recipient of the Mohammed bin Rashid Excellence Award in May 2014, taking home the "Pride of the Emirates Medal."

One of eight children, a profile in the National reports notes that she had to "overcome several challenges" at the beginning of her training. The Abu Dhabi native certainly didn't receive any special treatment.

"Competing with oneself is conducive to continued learning," Al Mansouri said. "Everybody is required to have the same high level of combat competence."

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Jordan Valinsky

Jordan is a writer at the Live News desk. He's previously written for The Week, Betabeat, The Daily Dot and CNN.com.

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