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 But while historic, the fact that the two men have rescinded the 1994 rule doesn't herald an era of automatic changes throughout the military.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 95.

    As long as the physical standards required of a soldier, male or female, remain the same as they always have been and aren't changed, I see no problem with this. It should be the same for the British Army. However, I can still see problems with mixed male and female fighting units. But given time those problems should be able to be overcome.

  • rate this

    Comment number 94.

    My current civilian job involves using Physical Force to control criminals, and sorry but a lot of the women just do not have the strength to put them down.It is the same in the Army, we have different bodies and when will this be accepted by the PC brigade.
    We should use women for their strengths not try to compete against men, female pilots are excellent due to superior multi tasking.

  • Comment number 93.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 92.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 91.

    It seems femininity is old fashioned or something. What a shame. No wonder marriages don't work any more.

  • rate this

    Comment number 90.

    # 73 - "I doubt there would be many woman who could meet infantry standards."
    No, not many - but neither are there many men. The Marines used to advertise as "99.9% need not apply". The point is that there are extremely capable individuals of both sexes far out on the tail of the ability distribution. If you select for the best why not take all that can make the cut?

  • rate this

    Comment number 89.

    To those saying that the 'average' woman is less strong than the 'average' male, that is true. However a woman who joins the army, and goes through all their vigorous training, is likely to be very much stronger than the 'average' man.

  • rate this

    Comment number 88.

    Seems like Western Females are more at War with their Male counterparts all in the name of misguided equality rights.

  • rate this

    Comment number 87.

    C2theD wrote:

    ""Tell them, and their fellow Brits, most Americans would prefer that they mind their own business"

    - There is something so beautifully ironic about that statement to say anything further would ruin it."


    Only if you somehow think Americans equal their government.

  • rate this

    Comment number 86.

    I wonder how the world will react when the 'enemy' uses their women captives to demonstrate to the world why sending them in to combat was a good idea?

  • rate this

    Comment number 85.

    Our culture considers males more disposable than women and this is part of the reason males are sent to die in war. Mixing males and females in a situation that requires losses will mean bad decisions are made for the wrong reasons

  • rate this

    Comment number 84.

    Regarding the strength comments, has anyone considered that many women lack strength because (if they're good looking) they know they can always get someone else to do all the heavy lifting for them?

    I know women in the armed forces, I know women who work in huge warehouses (loading trucks all day long) and you really wouldn't want to mess with any of them.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 83.

    Do most people commenting on this article realise the UK currently has women fighting and dying in the military? Front-line service is a very nebulous term, in Afghanistan it can mean anything outside Camp Bastion. It is very crass to diminish these women's deaths with talk of cosmetic mirrors on rifles and the like.

  • rate this

    Comment number 82.

    As Mr Nicholson said"You can't handle the Truth!" negative rating for comment 55. Sorry ladies but it happened.The Army is fighting an Enemy who have no mercy, male or female. Male soldiers were also warned we would be raped if captured, but we didn't have a bounty on our heads.
    PC culture has no place in war fighting, I certainly would do everything I could to stop my daughter joining up.

  • rate this

    Comment number 81.

    This is good news.

    Too often, the fact that women do not fight and die in combat is used as an argument against them having equal rights to men in other areas (despite the fact that women have been denied the chance to fight/die in combat).

    Let us hope that this step towards equality is reflected in the rest of society before long.

  • rate this

    Comment number 80.

    Why do I get the feeling that people will vote on this hys with their hearts and not with their heads? No different to any other HYS in my experience. I have seen some salient points made here, points worth discussing, and they are being voted down as a matter of course.

    On that note, I've eyed up this HYS as not being worthy of my attention.

  • rate this

    Comment number 79.

    #32 Robbidou

    "Women might not have the same physical strength as men, weight for weight, but they do have far greater reserves of stamina."

    I disagree, and stamina is the ability to keep doing something. If someone can't do something to begin with, it's a waste of stamina.

    Try to imagine 120lb packs, plus GPMP ammo for 50 miles in antartic conditions. Could women have the Falklands yomp?

  • rate this

    Comment number 78.

    Does this mean GI Jane wasn't a true story?

  • rate this

    Comment number 77.

    Soldiers are sent to kill or be killed, by glory seeking politicians who are tucked up safely at home.

    A woman should have the right to choose to join in with that madness as any man.

  • rate this

    Comment number 76.

    Another ridiculous decision made in the name of Political Correctness ! I am all for women getting the equality they deserve, but their physical attributes differ greatly to those of the male, which will challenge them under arduous conditions. My concern would be that their main opposition is likely to come from Islamist forces, and they would not get sympathy or respect if captured by them.


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