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United States lifts ban on frontline combat roles for women

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
January 24th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The announcement was expected as just part of the Obama administration's sweeping changes to the military. United States Defense Secretary Leon Panetta says that he has decided to lift the military's ban on women serving in combat. A senior U.S. defense official says that thousands of frontline war fighting jobs may shortly become available to female service members.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Panetta and General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, "are expected to announce the lifting of the direct combat exclusion rule for women in the military," the anonymous official is quoted as saying.

Officials say that the announcement was expected. The decision would give the individual military services until 2016 to seek an exemption if they believe any jobs should remain closed to women.

The head of the Senate Armed Services Committee, U.S. Senator Carl Levin welcomed the news, saying it reflected the "reality of 21st century military operations." The American Civil Liberties Union had filed a suit last November to force the Pentagon to end the ban.

"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," Senator Patty Murray says.

The decision effectively overturns a 1994 policy that prevented women from serving in small frontline combat units.

The Pentagon unveiled a policy last year that opened 14,000 new jobs to women, but had continued to prohibit them from serving in infantry, armor and special operations units whose main function was to engage in frontline combat.

Questioned as to why women who had served in Iraq and Afghanistan that had conducted security details and house-to-house searches were still being formally barred from combat positions, the Pentagon said the services wanted to see how they performed in the new positions before opening up further.

Two percent of U.S. deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan have been women. About 280,000 women have been deployed to the war zones over the past decade, about 12 percent of the U.S. total.

Ten years of combat had made it clear that some of the military's gender-based restrictions were obsolete, defense officials noted. This conclusion was reached as battlefields faced by U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan had no clear frontlines and no obvious ways to limit exposure to the fighting.

"This policy has become irrelevant given the modern battle space with its nonlinear boundaries," the Defense Department said in a report to Congress.

More than 200,000 women serve as active duty members of the military, including more than 37,000 officers.

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