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 But while historic, the fact that the two men have rescinded the 1994 rule doesn't herald an era of automatic changes throughout the military.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 515.

    If women can carry out the same duties as men, carry their own gear, I fail to see the issue here.

    You don't need to be built like Arnie to be a sniper, or a gunner etc.


    Don't assume all "front line" combat involves carrying a knife in your teeth and getting down and dirty, there are plenty of roles women can fulfill.

  • rate this

    Comment number 514.

    Anybody who has done a CFT in a mixed unit will know what a nightmare it is, women cannot keep up the pace carrying kit,and a lighter load at that.
    I'm not talking about the racing snakes who can run for miles minus kit, woman in an Infantry unit will not work.Only the PC USA would implement such a disastrous policy on their forces.
    They must be running out of people willing to fight abroad.

  • rate this

    Comment number 513.

    What took the pentagon so long to realize the potential of women in war. Was not the prime antagonist in the Iraqi prisoners torture and mutilation incident, an innocent looking young woman?

  • rate this

    Comment number 512.

    509.They would turn in their graves
    Nice to see the trolls alive and well i thought this conversation was far too constructive and intelligent.

  • rate this

    Comment number 511.

    I've seen so many feminist propaganda videos with scenes involving girlfiends shooting their boyfriends in the head while kissing, or computergames with gun toting females. The idea Women in combat has been popularised and sexualised. I'm old fashioned. Sorry but I am. Women bring new life into the world, and should not be taking lives. What greater form of defense is there than that?

  • rate this

    Comment number 510.

    In many things, sexual equality is less or non existant because nature made it that way

    Biggest danger to USA servicewomen is USA servicemen

  • rate this

    Comment number 509.

    Some of the women you see nowadays would be well suited to the front line. Not saying they're tough enough for the slaughter or loss of limbs that goes with the territory but they could shout the enemy into submission.
    No, not just the libbers either, it's spread far beyond that.

  • rate this

    Comment number 508.

    485, this is not about women being soldiers, it's about women serving in front line combat units.

  • rate this

    Comment number 507.

    Having a 'quota' 2 acheive equality is a contradiction. Equal rights is abt being given the opportunity 2 do the same thing as everyone else, not a right to actually do that same thing! Give women a chance 2 join bt dont lessen the quality/challenge of tests required if women get through then this will be on merit. If they dont then at least they have the opportunity to say they tried! Simples!

  • rate this

    Comment number 506.

    478. Sensibly Reckless

    Thanks for the refs. Marginal p-values from some dubious stats, but interesting!

    I agree that biology affects the way we think, but humans are not bound by that (just as well, otherwise we'd all be behaving like chimps (rape, infanticide etc)). Problem is, the structures which brought 'control' of behaviour (esp religion) exaggerated gender roles. Time to move on...

  • rate this

    Comment number 505.

    #489 War isn't between equals. Its not an 18th century duel. The person who sticks the bayonet into the enemy moved quickest. Its not brute strength. Speed counts more.

    Incidentally the best advice I got was to stick the bayonet in then pull the trigger to blow the enemy off the bayonet. THAT inflicts a fatal wound! (running around a battlefield with an empty rifle is unwise: male or female)

  • rate this

    Comment number 504.

    I'm not sure anyone has mentioned this already .. but what about the impact on family life / affairs (it does happen) living in close proximity, stressful situation possibly fatal?

    What about the wives back home?

    493. Peter_Sym

    Thats true there were useless blokes too- generally still alot better than almost all the women though, but often you still had a chance sometimes inspite of them

  • rate this

    Comment number 503.

    487. Knut Largerson

    @ my 479.

    Even so most casualties were caused by Artillery in WWI/WWII, missing in action was often blown to smithereens by a shell.


    Agree entirely.

    But wars are not won by artillery (e.g. WWI). They prepare for the Infantry who "mop up" and deliver victory.

    [Having served in both Infantry and Artillery]

  • rate this

    Comment number 502.

    The main difference between men and women that is relevant in this context is that the woman fighting could be pregnant so endangering another life apart from her own.

  • rate this

    Comment number 501.

    Please don't pretend this is about equality, the US justs wants to double the amount of cannon fodder they can recruit from deprived areas as the numbers have been dropping year on year.

  • rate this

    Comment number 500.

    89. phildman "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."

    ...But still less strong that the a man who goes through the same vigorous training.

    That's why women don't play in the NFL or Six Nations.

  • rate this

    Comment number 499.

    @495 irishredback

    Sounds a great idea, would need to start really from first school upwards, to be honest i see absolutely why there shouldnt be women playing football with men. May make some of the players in the premiership act a little differently.

  • rate this

    Comment number 498.

    I support this move as long as equality is applied across the board: No more differing standards for PT tests and women must sign up for the Selective Service, just like men.

  • rate this

    Comment number 497.

    "while others - including for special forces such as the Navy Seals and the Delta Force - could take longer."

    In the German army, their special forces - the KSK - is open to women. So far, not a single woman has been able to pass its training regime. I don't doubt the strength of women, or their desire to be amongst the greatest, but the KSK exemplifies the challenge that they face.

  • Comment number 496.

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


Page 13 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.