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FROM THE ANTHOLOGY: The Best of 2012

Fighting Mad

Why Women Turn to the FARC -- and How the FARC Turns on Them

FARC rebels pose with a girl holding a weapon in an undated photo confiscated by Colombian authorities. (Reuters)

In the summer of 2009, during a lunch with a retired colonel of the Colombian army, I asked about his experiences fighting female members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), an insurgency that has plagued the country since the mid-1960s. Although the colonel did not say it was official policy to shoot women first during a firefight, he hinted that any sensible soldier would do so. Women, with their "Kamikaze-like" mentality, he said, were the most deadly combatants.

When I met "Athena" earlier this year, I found out why. In 1997, just before her 13th birthday, Athena became one of the rare women to join the organization. By the time she deserted in 2005, however, she estimates that female membership had grown to at least 40 percent. Recent Colombian government statistics, along with

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