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Pentagon Lifts Ban on Combat Duty for Women

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U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta says the Pentagon has dropped its ban on women in combat positions.

Panetta says allowing women to serve in combat will strengthen the U.S. military's ability to win wars. He said they have "proven their ability to serve in an expanding number of roles."

Speaking at a Pentagon ceremony in remembrance of Martin Luther King Jr., Panetta said the military is more capable, and more powerful "when we use all of the great diverse strengths of the American people.''

The new policy could open more than 230,000 battlefront posts to women in all U.S. military services.

In the military, serving in combat positions remains key to career advancement. Women have long said that by not recognizing their real service, the military has unfairly held them back.

Women still may be excluded from some combat jobs in the future and will have to meet strict physical requirements for every job. The Pentagon official says the chiefs of U.S. military services will have three years to study the issue.

There long has been opposition to putting women in combat, based on questions of whether they have the necessary strength and stamina for certain jobs, or whether their presence might hurt unit cohesion.

Family Research Council executive vice president Jerry Boykin, a retired Army lieutenant general, called the move ``another social experiment'' that will place unnecessary burdens on military commanders.

In addition to questions of strength and performance, there also have been suggestions that the American public would not tolerate large numbers of women being killed in war.

Women comprise about 14 percent of the 1.4 million active military personnel. More than 280,000 women have been sent to Iraq, Afghanistan or to jobs in neighboring nations in support of the wars. Of the more than 6,600 U.S. service members who have been killed, 152 have been women.

Article by VOA News