American women will now be able to serve in combat positions with the Pentagon lifting a 1994 ban. Defence secretary Leon Panetta made the announcement on Thursday, with the decision taking effect from as early as May 15.
This will be the largest expansion of the role of women on the front lines in the history of the US. Some countries, such as Israel, already allow women in combat roles.
India opened up its military to women in 1992 but doesn’t deploy them in combat roles. In fact, the induction is confined only to the officer cadre, not in junior positions.
The decision was prompted by the valour shown by women in the two wars the US has fought in the last decade — Afghanistan and Iraq, said defence officials. Over 150 women died in those wars.
“The decision to allow women to serve in combat will allow the best man or woman on the front line to keep America safe,” said Representative Tammy Duckworth in a statement.
Duckworth is the first woman injured in combat to be elected to the House of Representatives. “As a combat veteran, I know the inclusion of women in combat roles will make America safer.”
Women comprise 14% of the US military. Some of them fly fighter planes but they are mostly confined to support roles.
Pentagon’s new policy will now allow them to serve in combat roles. But the military will be allowed to establish exceptions, which some experts suggested, could be the special forces.
“This is monumental,” Anu Bhagwati, a Marine veteran and executive director of the Service Women’s Action Network, told The Washington Post.