No, This Probably Isn’t the Woman in Charge of Defending Kobane

But she’s still pretty awesome

The vicious fight for the predominantly Kurdish town of Kobane on the Turkish-Syrian border has captured the world’s attention. Syrian-Kurdish fighters from the YPG militia are in a drawn-out battle with Islamic State. The U.N. has warned of a massacre if the Islamists take the city.

Over the weekend of Oct. 10, a hero rose up. News broke that the current commander of Kurdish forces in the city is Gen. Nalin Afrin of the YPG—a woman. The above photo spread like wildfire on Twitter and Facebook, with users saying that the image depicts Afrin leading her troops.

Overnight, Afrin has become a symbol of Kurdish defiance against the barbaric Islamic State. She’s the antithesis of everything the militants stand for. All around the world, Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr users are praising #NalinAfrin.

The woman in the photo—binoculars in hand, resolve in her eyes—looks battle-hardened and combat-ready. She’s an inspiration. Too bad she’s almost certainly not Afrin.

Because the photo wasn’t even taken in Kobane.

The spotter scanning Islamic State lines in Rabia, Iraq. Matt Cetti-Roberts photo

I know this because I helped edit the real story behind the shot. War is Boring photographer Matt Cetti-Roberts snapped the pic last month in the town of Rabia, on the Iraq-Syria border.

The woman in the photo isn’t commanding a large operation. She’s a spotter for a YPG sniper team hunting Islamic State militants.

Admittedly, Cetti-Roberts didn’t get the woman’s name. He didn’t want to bother her as she scanned for enemy sharpshooters.

But there’s very little chance that she’s Afrin. It’s extremely unlikely that a female sniper fighting in Iraq in late September would suddenly get promoted to general and then make it all the way to Kobane, in Syria near Turkey, to take charge of a battle that was already raging in early October.

The woman in this photo was plenty busy in Rabia. Her team fired on an enemy fighter—or something that looked like an enemy fighter—a few moments after Cetti-Roberts took the photos. Rabia is a dangerous place.

In fact, militants shot dead the man standing on the right in the photo at top—a YPG combat photographer named Mazloum—just a few hours after Cetti-Roberts snapped the pic.

So the woman in the photos probably isn’t the leader of YPG forces in Kobane. But she’s still a bad-ass in her own right.

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