When fighter jets from the United Arab Emirates took part in airstrikes against the Islamic State in Syria on Monday night, the mission was led by a woman, the country’s ambassador to the United States said Thursday morning.
The pilot, Maj. Mariam Al Mansouri, was among the first women to graduate from the Emirates’ air force academy after it began to admit women, and became the nation’s first female fighter pilot.
“She is a fully qualified, highly trained, combat-ready pilot, and she led the mission,” the ambassador, Yousef Al Otaiba, said.
When American tanker-jet pilots contacted the flight to arrange for midair refueling, Mr. Otaiba said, they paused for about 20 seconds after hearing a woman’s voice in reply.
While women do face barriers in the conservative Islamic society of the United Arab Emirates, Mr. Otaiba said the debate over the role of women in society showed a crucial difference in the divergent visions of moderates and extremists in the Muslim world.
“I think it’s important for us moderate Arabs, moderate Muslims, to step up and say this is a threat against us,” Mr. Otaiba said of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL.
The United States-led coalition that mounted airstrikes against the Islamic State on Syrian territory this week includes the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Jordan. On Thursday, coalition aircraft struck 12 small oil refineries controlled by the Islamic State, Pentagon officials said.
Major Mansouri, 35, was profiled in an Abu Dhabi newspaper, in June. She said she had wanted to become a pilot since high school, but had to wait until women were permitted. She earned an undergraduate degree in English literature and worked for the armed forces in other capacities. She graduated from Khalifa bin Zayed Air College in 2007, the newspaper reported. She now flies the Block 60 model of the American-built F-16 fighter jet.
In the newspaper profile, the major offered some advice for women who wanted to follow in her footsteps: “Be prepared, as it is a time- and effort-consuming field that requires a great deal of passion.”