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The Pentagon on Thursday is set to recommend a new policy to Congress that would ease restrictions on women serving in combat -- but one that would continue to keep females off the front lines of battle.
The Los Angeles Times reports that while women still won't be allowed to to serve directly in front-line infantry, armor and special operations forces, the new policy would let them serve at the battalion level, which until now has been considered too close to combat.
If implemented, the new policy would allow women to fill non-infantry battalion jobs such as radio operator, intelligence analyst, medic, radar operator and tank mechanic. They could also be placed with combat forces, such as supply convoys in areas of fighting, according to the report.
A 1994 combat exclusion policy banned women from being assigned to ground combat units below the brigade level. A brigade comprises 3,500 troops and is made up of smaller battalions. So while a woman could formally be assigned to a brigade, she couldn’t be assigned to a battalion. Up until now, the military has worked around these rules by "attaching" women to battalions, meaning they could do the work but not get the credit for being in combat arms.
The Associated Press reports that service in combat paves the way for promotions and other job opportunities, so the old rule has prevented women from moving up the career ranks. The Pentagon’s proposed policy would open up about 14,000 jobs to women.
The new policy, expected to take effect this summer, highlights a long-standing debate on whether women should be put in combat. Those opposed to it question whether women have the necessary stamina and strength, and whether their presence might hurt unit cohesion. There have also been concerns that the American public would not tolerate high numbers of women returning home from war in body bags.
Some 280,000 women have been sent to Iraq, Afghanistan or to jobs in neighboring countries in support of the wars, making up roughly 12 percent of all those who have served there, according to the AP.