In both Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. Army and Marines found it useful to send a female soldier along on raids, as it was less disruptive to have a woman search the female civilians. There was no shortage of volunteers for this duty. The marines, as is their custom, saw more opportunities in this. Thus the marines began sending a team of women on such missions.
Now, by law, women are not allowed to participate in combat. But it's also understood that this only serves to keep women out of the combat arms (infantry, armor, artillery), but not out of combat itself. This was particularly true in Iraq, where non-combat troops were constantly attacked as they drove trucks in supply convoys. These convoys quickly acquired more weapons and combat training, and the women remained. The MPs (Military Police) are not considered a combat arm, even though MPs are trained as light infantry, and expected to serve close to the fighting. MPs were in charge of convoy security, and often a female NCO or officer was in charge. Women had no problem with this, and some female MPs won awards for valor under fire.
The marines have a different attitude towards this. As they put it, "every marine a rifleman." In practice, this means that the majority of marines, who have combat support jobs, continue to get infantry training. So the marines in Iraq called these all-female teams (3-5 women) Lionesses [PHOTO]. Again, no shortage of volunteers, as female marines, even more than their sisters in the army, were eager to get into the fight. But that's not what the lioness teams were created for. What the marines had also noticed was that the female marines tended to get useful information out of the women they searched. Iraqi women were surprised, and often awed, when they encountered these female soldiers and marines. The awe often turned into cooperation. Most Iraqi women are much less enthusiastic about fighting the Americans than their men folk (who die in large numbers when they do so.) Being a widow is much harder in the Arab world than it is in the West.
The marines also noticed that the female troops were better at picking up useful information in general. This is something Western police forces noted, in the last few decades, as women were allowed to work in all areas of police work, including detectives and crime scene investigators. Iraqi men were also intimidated by female soldiers and marines. In the macho Arab world, an assertive female with an assault rifle is sort of a man's worst nightmare. So many otherwise reticent Iraqi men, opened up to the female troops, and provided information. Women also had an easier time detecting a lie (something husbands often learn the hard way.)
The lioness teams proved capable in combat, as sometimes these peacekeeping missions ran into firefights or ambushes. But the main advantage of having a team of women along was the greater amount of intelligence collected. In addition, the female marines also made it easier to establish friendly relationships in neighborhoods and villages. This provided a more long term source of information.