US lifts ban on women in combat
US defense secretary Leon E Panetta is lifting the military's official ban on women in combat, which will open up hundreds of thousands of additional front-line jobs to them, it was announced today.
The groundbreaking decision overturns a 1994 Pentagon rule that restricts women from artillery, armour, infantry and other such combat roles, even though in reality women have frequently found themselves in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, where more than 20,000 have served. As of last year, more than 800 women had been wounded in the two wars and more than 130 had died.
Officials described the decision as the beginning of a process to allow the branches of the military to put the change into effect. Officials said Mr Panetta had made the decision on the recommendation of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
President Barack Obama fully supports the Pentagon's decision, White House spokesman Jay Carney said today. He said MrObama is "very pleased" with the decision and "fully supports this effort to expand opportunities for women."
Women have long chafed under the combat restrictions and have increasingly pressured the Pentagon to catch up with the reality on the battlefield. The move comes as Mr Panetta is about to step down from his post and would leave him with a major legacy after only 18 months in the job.
The decision clearly fits into the broad and ambitious liberal agenda, especially around matters of equal opportunity, that Mr Obama laid out this week in his inaugural address. But while it had to have been approved by him, and does not require action by Congress, it appeared yesterday that it was in large part driven by the military itself.
Mr Panetta's decision came after he received a letter from Gen Martin E Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who stated in strong terms that the armed service chiefs all agreed that "the time has come to rescind the direct combat exclusion rule for women and to eliminate all unnecessary gender-based barriers to service."
A military official said the change would be implemented "as quickly as possible," although the Pentagon is allowing three years, until January 2016, for final decisions from the services. Each branch of the military will have to come up with an implementation plan in the next several months, the official said. If a branch of the military decides that a specific job should not be opened to a woman, representatives of that branch will have to ask for an exception.
"To implement these initiatives successfully and without sacrificing our war-fighting capability or the trust of the American people, we will need time to get it right," Gen Dempsey wrote.