U.S. to lift ban on women in front-line combat jobs
By David Alexander and Phil Stewart | ReutersWASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. military will formally end its ban on women serving in front-line combat roles, officials said on Wednesday, in a move that could open thousands of fighting jobs to female service members for the first time.
January 24, 2013, 1:50 pm TWN
The move knocks down another societal barrier in the U.S. armed forces, after the Pentagon in 2011 scrapped its "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" ban on gays and lesbians serving openly in the military.
U.S. defense officials said the decision to end the ban had been taken by outgoing U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and individual military services would have until 2016 to seek exemptions if they believed any combat roles should remain closed to women.
Panetta is expected to announce the decision formally on Thursday. It will come after 11 years of non-stop war that has seen 84 women killed as a result of hostile action in the unpopular, costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The military services will have until May 15 to submit a plan on how they will comply by 2016.
Women have represented around 2 percent of the U.S. casualties of in Iraq and Afghanistan and some 12 percent - or 300,000 - of those deployed in the war efforts in the past 11 years, in which there were often no clearly defined front lines, and where deadly guerrilla tactics have included roadside bombs that kill and maim indiscriminately.
Women serve in combat roles for the armed forces of a few developed nations, including Canada and Israel, but officials say demand from women for such jobs in NATO nations is very low. In 2010, Britain decided after a review that it would not change rules excluding women from infantry or combat teams.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which filed a suit in November seeking to force the Pentagon to end the ban on women in combat, applauded the planned move, which will overturn a 1994 policy preventing women from serving in small front-line combat units.
The outgoing head of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, Democratic Senator Patty Murray from Washington, and Democratic Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, the head of the Senate Armed Services Committee, also voiced approval.
"This is an historic step for equality and for recognizing the role women have, and will continue to play, in the defense of our nation," Murray said. Levin said it reflected the "reality of 21st century military operations."