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US military to ease curbs on women in combat roles

American women will now be able to serve in Army units closer to the front lines than ever before as the military has formally opened thousands of jobs that had been closed to them.

world Updated: Feb 10, 2012 11:10 IST

American women will now be able to serve in Army units closer to the front lines than ever before as the military has formally opened thousands of jobs that had been closed to them.

The Pentagon on Thursday announced to open up about 14,000 of its combat-related position for the women, even as it noted that most of the ground combat units would continue to remain out of bounds of the women.

"The department of defence is committed to continuing its efforts to open additional positions by replacing gender-restricted policies with neutral physical standards based on tasks military members are required to perform in the course of their duties," said Vee Penrod, the deputy undersecretary of defence for military personnel policy.

"This is an area of emphasis for us as we move forward beyond the initial steps reported as part of this review," Penrod told Pentagon correspondents at a news briefing here after the release of a report in this regard.

Following the report, which was sent to the Congress, the Pentagon announced to open combat-related positions, including tank mechanics and intelligence officers on the front lines, to women troops.

In actual practice, however, women already serve in many of those jobs, but as temporary "attachments" to battalions — a bureaucratic sidestep that has been necessary with the high demand for troops during the last decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Pentagon's new rules largely formalise existing arrangements and in many ways are simply catching up with realities on the battlefield.

The new rules keep in place a ban on women serving in the infantry, in combat tank units and in Special Operations commando units — considered the most dangerous combat jobs.

Defence secretary Leon Panetta believes that this is the beginning, not the end, of a process, his spokesman said.

"The services will continue to review positions and requirements to determine what additional positions may be opened to women. Our goal is to ensure that the mission is met with the best qualified and most capable people, regardless of gender," Pentagon press secretary George Little said.

The Pentagon said it would keep 238,000 other positions, which is about one-fifth of the regular active-duty military, off-limits to women, pending further reviews. Almost all these jobs are in Army and Marine Corps.

"While practical barriers do still exist to removing other restrictions on women serving, we're reviewing those to see if more opportunities can be opened. We need time, experience and careful review to ensure that we do so in a way that maximises the safety and privacy of all service members," Little said.

As a result of today's announcement, he said, the services will gain further experience that will help determine how to implement additional changes down the road.

"We are also taking new steps, such as developing gender-neutral standards, that will lay the groundwork for other changes in the future," he said.

Major general Gary Patton, principal director for military personnel policy, said the Air Force already has 99% positions open.

The ones excluded are generally in the special ops arena, combat controller and so forth.

"The Army, with these additions today, will have about 69% open. Those that remain closed will be infantry, artillerymen, cavalry, tank crewmen, special forces and so forth. The Marines are a lot like the Army, and then the Navy will have 88 per cent positions open, and those that remain closed are in the submarine and special warfare categories," Patton said.