In a historic development for gender equality, the US military is to open up combat roles to women starting January 2016.
Addressing the media from the Pentagon yesterday, US secretary of Defence Ash Carter said, "There will be no exceptions. This means that, as long as they qualify and meet the standards, women will now be able to contribute to our mission in ways they could not before."
The decision comes three years after the Pentagon gave the US military a January 2016 deadline to comply with the order, saying the restrictions were out of place in a world where women had taken part in decade long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, with nearly 300,000 deployed in conflict zones.
The issue had been the subject of a bitter debate within the Pentagon, with the chiefs of Army, Navy, Air Force and Special Operations in favour. However, the elite Marine Corps argued units with women had a poorer performance. The Marine Corps also made a controversial statement that men only units could carry more weight, move through tactical manoeuvres faster and suffer lesser injuries.
The defence secretary, however, overruled their claims, saying, "While the Marine Corps asked for a partial exception in some areas such as infantry, machine gunner, fire support reconnaissance and others, we are a joint force, and I have decided to make a decision which applies to the entire force."
However, according to commentators, it was uncertain how many would actually want to compete for some of the more grueling Army and Marine Corps infantry posts or for spots on the high-risk special operations teams.
Carter, however, said acknowledging some concerns: ''Implementation won't happen overnight. And while at the end of the day this will make us a better and stronger force, there still will be problems to fix and challenges to overcome. We shouldn't diminish that.''
According to Carter, the military could no longer afford to exclude half the population from high-risk military posts. He added that any woman who met the standards should be able to serve, and he gave the armed services 30 days to submit plans to make the change.