A female soldier serving in the US military (file photo)
Thu Jan 24, 2013 11:32PM
US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has removed the military’s ban on women serving in combat, rescinding a decades-old policy which prohibits women from frontline roles.
“Women have shown great courage and sacrifice on and off the battlefield, contributed in unprecedented ways to the military’s mission and proven their ability to serve in an expanding number of roles,” AFP quoted Panetta as saying in a statement on Thursday.
“Not everyone is going to be able to be a combat soldier. But everyone is entitled to a chance,” he added.
The move could open hundreds of thousands of frontline positions and potentially elite commando jobs to women.
The Pentagon chief made the announcement after a review by chiefs of all the armed services who unanimously endorsed an incremental change to be phased in over the next three years.
The joint chiefs “unanimously concluded that now is the time to move forward with the full intent to integrate women into occupational fields to the maximum extent possible,” Panetta said.
Military chiefs will be asked to report back to the defense secretary by May 15 on their initial plans to implement the new policy.
President Barack Obama issued a statement, hailing the lifting of the ban.
“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,” Obama said.
“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 valor knows no gender,” he added.
The decision overturns a 1994 rule barring women from being assigned to small ground-combat units, and follows years of calls for a fully inclusive military.
Some jobs may open as soon as this year, while others, such as special operations forces, including Navy SEALs and the Army’s Delta Force, could take longer.
In November, four American female military officers, who had fought in US-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, sued the defense department over the ban on women in direct combat duties, saying that it was unconstitutional.
Women make up 14 percent of America’s 1.4 million active duty personnel, or about 204,000 service members, according to the Pentagon.