Pentagon ends ban on women in frontline combat


Panetta: Opening combat positions recognises the reality of male and female soldiers die together

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US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta has lifted the military's ban on women serving in combat roles, potentially opening hundreds of thousands of frontline positions to women.

The ruling, officially announced on Thursday, overturns a 1994 rule barring women from small ground-combat units.

But the military will have until 2016 to argue for any specific posts they think should remain closed to women.

President Barack Obama welcomed the "historic step".

At a Pentagon press conference, Mr Panetta said: "Female service members have faced the reality of combat, proving their willingness to fight and, yes, to die to defend their fellow Americans."

'Valour knows no gender'

He acknowledged a complaint frequently voiced by women denied combat roles - that military careers are hindered by a lack of combat experience.


General Martin Dempsey and Defence Secretary Leon Panetta made it clear that this move is about recognising reality: women have been serving in combat for years. But while historic, the fact that the two men have rescinded the 1994 rule doesn't herald an era of automatic changes throughout the military.

Gen Dempsey's 9 January memo noted that the time had come to eliminate all "unnecessary" gender-based barriers to service. It follows that there may be plenty of "necessary" barriers. It is now the job of service chiefs, over the next three years, to identify where those barriers lie.

The expectation is that a large proportion of the 237,000 positions now closed to women will open. But even if certain units (special operations, for example) remain off limits, Gen Dempsey says he thinks today's move will have wider benefits, including tackling the military's problem with sexual harassment.

"I fundamentally believe that our military is more effective when success is based solely on ability and qualifications and on performance," said Mr Panetta.

Military chiefs will be asked to report back to Mr Panetta by 15 May on their initial plans to implement the new policy.

A senior defence official said about 237,000 jobs would be newly open to women "who can meet the standards".

President Barack Obama said: "This milestone reflects the courageous and patriotic service of women through more than two centuries of American history and the indispensable role of women in today's military.

"Many have made the ultimate sacrifice, including more than 150 women who have given their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan - patriots whose sacrifices show that valour knows no gender."

Mr Panetta hopes to have the process complete by 2016.

The US is likely to have withdrawn all combat troops from Afghanistan well ahead of that time.

Some jobs are expected to be opened to women this year, while others - including for special forces such as the Navy Seals and the Delta Force - could take longer.

Tammy Duckworth on Capitol Hill (3 January 2013) Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth is a high-profile US combat veteran

One of the most high-profile female combat veterans in America is US Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth, an Illinois Democrat who lost her legs when the Army helicopter she was piloting in Iraq was shot down.

On Thursday, she quipped on NBC's Today show: "I didn't lose my legs in a bar fight. I'm pretty sure I was in combat."

Restrictions were first eased a year ago, when the Pentagon opened up 14,500 roles, closer to the frontline, which had previously been off limits to female personnel.

In November, a group of four women in the military sued the defence department over the ban, arguing that it was unconstitutional.

One of the plaintiffs, Marine Corps Capt Zoe Bedell, said existing rules had blocked her advancement in the Marines.

During the Iraq and Afghan wars, US female military personnel have worked as medics, military police and intelligence officers, sometimes attached but not formally assigned to frontline units.

As of 2012, more than 800 women were wounded in those wars, and more than 150 have died.

Women comprise 14% of America's 1.4 million active military personnel.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    How on earth are they going to fit a cosmetic mirror to a rifle sight ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    I agree with @26 that I do think it is time to reassess this. If you meet all the criteria for strength, mental agility and psychological resilience, then does it matter whether you are female?

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.


    If any male soldiers are hung up some old fashioned, at best quaint, at worse down right mysogonistic, attitdues that is not the fault of the ladies....

    ....seeing women fighting & dying alongside their mae colleagues is the only way to break and lingering remains of out dated attitudes in todays male soldiers.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    14 Minutes ago
    "I'd rather have a 15st bloke dragging me to safety than an 8st woman."
    And how many women of your acquaintance weigh only 8 stone - shorter than average women or anorexics, neither of whom would qualify to join the armed forces! Women might not have the same physical strength as men, weight for weight, but they do have far greater reserves of stamina.

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    Mokhtar Belmokhtar... this is your worst nightmare!

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    The Mighty Thor wrote:

    "Sick of hearing about the USA's military to be honest."

    Tell that to your BBC. You can also remind them that they are not Americans so maybe they will stop covering and obsessing over stories about America as if somehow they are. Tell them, and their fellow Brits, most Americans would prefer that they mind their own business.

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    women have fought before but they have got to step up to the plate just like any male recruit should make for some interesting battle exchanges though!

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    "A bayonet is a weapon with a worker at each end"

    Whether its men or women it still holds true

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    Some women joined because they know they weren't going to be put on the front line.

    So now will this change the amount of women willing to join?

    I think so.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    As long as certain fitness and ability test are in place then I don't see any problem with this.

    If women want to sign up to get shot at for unnecessary wars than let them, there's never a winner whether the soldiers be male or female!

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    Putting anybody into combat is a terrible waste of life, but at the same time, why should we discriminate whom we put out to fight if the "enemy" doesn't discriminate about whom they kill? By the way, have we had any peace talks with the Taliban? The media seem to be able to arrange meetings without a hitch.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    Just wait until a few get captured and raped, things/views will change. But.......... Women have the same rights as men, so why not. Come on the Spurs!

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    What combat ? They fire at each other from a mile away and drop bombs from planes and helis which remain well out of harms way. Combat my @$$.

    Bring back swords !

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    good. combat troops have an unfortunate habit of dying. no reason why men only should be viewed as expendable cannon fodder. don't hear too many calls for equality from women about the Somme or Verdun.

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    This is a very bad idea. Women can obviously match men intellectually but most will never match a man in strength. In my 20 yrs of military service I can't begin to count the number of times I had to help a women when it came to moving heavy equipment and somehow it is supposed to be OK for them to be on the front lines? And what about a woman's monthly hormonal cycles? Those are realities.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    Good. There's no reason to perpetuate meaningless historical gender roles. I would prefer our frontline soldiers just be those who have the best aptitude to be there.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    Not a surprise they're increasing the catchment area for troops - people are getting far more cynical about the need for war in general and in particular the reasons given by our 'superiors' to justify them

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    Those who have the power to bring new life - by giving birth - trained and equipped to kill? It's quite a thought. But anything which brings more balance into the awful business of war - eg. fighting units which reflect real social relations - must be good. Will this mean more common-sense and human empathy around to take the edge off all that pure, testosterone-fuelled aggression? Let's see...

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    The US - always thinking about war and killing.

    What a global waste.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    it says something about American women....


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