Out-going United State Secretary of Defence, Leon Panetta, has announced a ground-breaking decision that could see female members of the military take up combat roles, including potential posting to elite Special Forces.
Current U.S. military policy forbids women soldiers from serving in commando units whose purpose is to kill; such as the combat roles in the Marine, Delta Force and the Navy Seal.
The unexpected nature of the announcement means that Congress will be given 30 days to raise objections.
Though this unprecedented shift in policy may take two years before coming to fruition, female soldiers could start taking up frontline roles before the end of the year. At the moment some female soldiers are allowed to join patrol in volatile Afghanistan.
Mr Panetta’s announcement will upturn a 1994 rule by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, which prohibits women from serving in combat positions in any unit smaller than a brigade.
FoxNews.com quoted an unnamed senior defence official who said: “This policy change will initiate a process whereby the services will develop plans to implement this decision, which was made by the secretary of defence upon the recommendation of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.”
The decision has got the nod from one of the fiercest opponents of President Barack Obama in the Republican Party. Senator John McCain, who lost the presidential contest to Mr. Obama in 2008, said he supports Mr. Panetta’s decision.
“The fact is that American women are already serving in harm’s way today all over the world and in every branch of our armed forces,” he said in a statement. “Many have made the ultimate sacrifice, and our nation owes them a deep debt of gratitude.”
According to the U.K. Telegraph, women soldiers have long campaigned for the chance to serve on the front line and last year four decorated female veterans sued the military, claiming that the ban was keeping them from the career advancement available to men.
The U.S. joins the growing rank of militaries – including Australia, Canada, France and Germany – that already allow women to serve in most combat roles.
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