Pentagon lifting ban on women in combat, opening new opportunities

Chiefs of the individual service branches are being told to submit a plan to implement the new policy to the secretary of Defense by May.

Erik De Castro/Reuters/File
Spc. Erica Taliaferro, a soldier from 549th MP Company, Task Force Bronco, patrols in Pachir wa Agam district in Nangarhar Province in eastern Afghanistan last year. The Pentagon has decided to allow women to serve in combat.

At the direction of Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, the Pentagon is announcing tomorrow that it will allow women to serve on the front lines of battle, according to top Pentagon officials.

This ruling would overturn a 1994 ban on women in combat.

The chiefs of the individual service branches are being told to submit a plan to implement the new policy to the secretary of Defense by May, according to a senior Pentagon official.

However, the Joint Special Operations Command, which is responsible for Navy SEALs and Delta Force commando units, will have longer, until 2016, “to take a look and see how that would impact” the Special Operations Forces, according to a senior Pentagon official.

The new policy will upend previous prohibitions on women in combat, opening thousands of new jobs to women.

Whereas before forces had to request special exceptions for women to be attached to combat units, now they will have to explain why women should not be allowed to be part of units on the front lines of battle. 

“Now they will have to request permission to have exclusion,” the senior Pentagon official says. “It’s a reversal of paradigms.”

There was some disagreement between "uniforms and suits" over how quickly the combat exclusion policies should be lifted, with some uniformed officers arguing for the policy not to be put in place before 2016. 

Major combat operations in Afghanistan are expected to end by 2014.

"This policy change will initiate a process whereby the services will develop plans to implement this decision, which was made by the secretary of Defense upon the recommendation of the Joint Chiefs of Staff," according to a senior defense official.

The policy will be put in place as “a progression of sorts,” says the Pentagon official, and will be expected to be fully in place by 2016.

Retired Col. Peter Mansoor, who commanded a brigade in Iraq and served as the executive officer for Gen. David Petraeus, says he believes the combat exclusion policies should be lifted.

"Certainly, in the types of wars that we've been fighting recently, women have already been serving in combat roles and they have been much needed," says Mr. Mansoor, a professor of military history at Ohio State University. "I think opening up all positions to women is inevitable."

That said, he adds, "There are huge physical differences between men and women, and I think what we'll find is a very small sliver of women will meet the demands as they currently exist."

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