Pentagon ends ban on women in frontline combat


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

Related Stories

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 But while historic, the fact that the two men have rescinded the 1994 rule doesn't herald an era of automatic changes throughout the military.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


More on This Story

Related Stories


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 115.

    96.Knut - Doubtless impressive stats for any sniper - but I think this is a small case of arguing with extremes - not every woman soldier is going to be a sniper and the ability to point a gun is a level playing field by gender. This article talks about overturning a 1994 rule prohibiting women from being assigned to small ground-combat units, not just sniping. This is where the debate lies.

  • rate this

    Comment number 114.

    Lyudmila Pavlichenko was a sniper. There is a difference in being a sniper and being involved in the thick of ground combat...

    What I would like to see is the reasons why women are not allowed in 'combat' roles properly explained as they are generally glossed over. Only then can we really make an informed argument for or against. I believe in genuine (not simply PC) equal opportunities.

  • rate this

    Comment number 113.

    To the guy saying the trained female soldier would be fitter and stronger than the average man, yes quite true. But not fitter and stronger than her male peers (on average) therefore female soldier will be slower and have less endurance. Units with women will therefore be weaker than all male units therefore less effective. That just a biological fact I'm afraid, same as my inability to breastfeed

  • rate this

    Comment number 112.

    The good of this is that in other branches such as the Navy, this would allow more rotation of men to shore duty. The bad is that one particular sub tender was sent to support Desert Storm and had to turn back early because 78 of the 90 women on board were pregnant before the 6 month tour was up. This resulted in subs having to go to Toulon France or Gibralter for supplies.

  • rate this

    Comment number 111.

    89. phildman

    Yes and we pack our professional army full of average men...

  • rate this

    Comment number 110.

    Whether or not the average women is weaker than the average male is not the point. If and individual is strong enough to fulfil the role is shouldn't matter about sex. There will only a problem if the standard is lower for females.

  • rate this

    Comment number 109.

    "It is the same in the Army, we have different bodies and when will this be accepted by the PC brigade."

    I've not heard of this unit. Are they like the Gay Hussars?

  • rate this

    Comment number 108.

    Women want the same rights as men, fine give us the same rights as women. Male soldier on tour discovers his wife is pregnant he gets sent home,also gets equal paid maternity leave.
    Sound's petty?, to me forcing men to except women into close knit male unit's is equally petty.BA fitness test, women carry less weight for a reason, so they can get in.
    Please get real and not blinded by PC rubbish

  • rate this

    Comment number 107.
    And also many more - My Lai massacre for example, rapes in Japanby US forces in 2012 including of a 12 year old.

    No doubt this will be marker down by those who think it's something only others do

  • rate this

    Comment number 106.

    Have you seen a woman in fighting mood?

    Much more scary than any man!

  • rate this

    Comment number 105.

    And this has exactly what to do with us?

  • rate this

    Comment number 104.

    #87 "Only if you somehow think Americans equal their government."

    - of course I don't but for all the enlightened east/west coast voices we hear, there's those big bits in the middle - always vote rep, buy more guns after shootings, have street parties when bin laden shot etc. A lot of you buy into it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 103.

    women in tactical roles no problem what father is going to accept his daughter going into battle? nonsense

  • rate this

    Comment number 102.

    93. Danaos

    "They can get in the combat units. But if they are caught by the enemy they should not be complaining for being raped... they are not civilians, anything can happen to them."


    You can really say that without even a pang on your conscience. The moment you say a woman "should not complain for being raped", you lose all authority, respect and integrity in the debate.

  • rate this

    Comment number 101.

    If you've got a squad of 50 men and 50 women, and a seargeant has to pick 50 of the ''stronger'' squaddies for a certain job, and if he then figures that out of the 50 ''strongest'' for this hypothetical task, 49 are men and there's only 1 woman... so what? At least the Seargeant has picked his task force on merit.

  • rate this

    Comment number 100.

    I don't think this is about mens ability over womens. A tough, trained woman, driven to join the army, could probably outmatch most civilian men - especially some of the couch-potato buffoons making sexist "jokes" here. I think the real problem is the interaction of men and women, both fragile in different ways, when put under intense distress.

  • rate this

    Comment number 99.

    I bet nearly everyone arguing in favor of putting them on the front lines such as the infantry have never even worked with women in the military and if they did it was never outside of an office. I regularly had to help the women I worked with pick up a heavy but commonly used ladder. A freakin ladder!! And now they are somehow OK to be in the infantry? This the madness of political correctness.

  • rate this

    Comment number 98.

    As long as the correct tests are in place, then its a good move. War is war. I don't condone it, since most are pretty much pointless. But gender shouldn't restrict.

  • rate this

    Comment number 97.

    Women want sexual equality. THey demand it, and rightly so.

    They deserve it, but they should be unable to pick and choose where itis applied or not. Combat roles, equal pension age, paternity (not maternity) leave for couples and so on.

    In fact, womens sports should also be stopped. Why womans football, not just football?

    Either you are good enough or you are not.

    End of.

  • rate this

    Comment number 96.

    Lyudmila Pavlichenko joined the Soviet army aged 24 refusing to become a nurse she was proficient with the Tokarev SVT-40 Rifle. In a little under three months she kill perhaps 187 German Soldiers.
    In 1942 after killing 309 Enemy Soldiers, she was wounded and withdrawn from front line service. She was active in fund raising and public speaking. Later training other snipers.
    Women can fight.


Page 33 of 38


More US & Canada stories



BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.