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

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