US women in all combat units by 2016: Pentagon

Washington, June 19 (IANS) American women will be fully integrated into frontline and special combat roles, including elite forces such as Army Rangers and Navy SEALs, by January 2016, the Pentagon has said.

More than 200,000 women are in the active-duty military, representing about 14.5 percent of the overall force, according to Pentagon figures. Most serve in the army.

While air force, army, navy, Marine and special forces commanders Tuesday detailed steps they will take, there was concern for how women might handle some of the more taxing physical demands of combat, CNN reported.

Officials were also concerned as to how men might view the presence of female troops in tight-knit elite units.

Women are permitted to serve in some hazardous jobs and did so in Iraq and Afghanistan where a number of them were killed, CNN said.

In January, then defense secretary Leon Panetta formally lifted the official ban on women in combat.

The top military leadership has embraced the goal of completing the change by January 2016.

“The department remains committed to removing all gender barriers wherever possible and meeting our missions with the best qualified and most capable personnel,” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel was quoted as saying in a May 21 memo to service leaders that was released Tuesday.

“I remain confident that we will retain the trust and confidence of the American people by opening positions to women, while ensuring that all members entering these newly opened positions can meet the standards required to maintain our war-fighting capability,” Hagel said.

Despite the earlier official ban on combat, women have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and have been part of gun crews, air crews and in seamanship specialties.

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