U.K. lifts ban on women in combat roles

LONDON, July 8 (UPI) — Women in the British military will serve on the front lines, as Prime Minister David Cameron lifted a ban on female soldiers in combat Friday.

After previously serving in support roles, women will enter the cavalry – which largely involves aerial reconnaissance, despite the archival name — infantry and armored corps, a change prompted by a two-year review by the Ministry of Defense and a recommendation to Cameron by Gen. Sir Nick Charles, chief of the general staff. The review found no evidence women could not cope with the physical requirements of combat roles.

“I agree with his (Charles’) advice and have accepted his recommendation. I have asked that this is implemented as soon as possible. It is vital that our armed forces are world class and reflect the society we live in. Lifting this ban is a major step. It will ensure the armed forces can make the most of all their talent and increase opportunities for women to serve in the full range of roles,” Cameron said at the NATO summit in Warsaw Friday in announcing the overturning of the ban.

There will be at least one change in regulations, in an infantry requirement that soldiers can carry a 55-pound load while completing an eight-mile run in under two hours. The ministry said the requirement would be altered not as an accommodation to women but to better reflect the reality of modern combat, in which patrols tend to move slowly to avoid hidden explosives. About 7,000 women are in the British military, or about 9 percent of its personnel; it is estimated that only about 4.5 percent of that number, or 300, could pass the current physical test, but many female soldiers have shown little interest in joining the infantry.

Women already serve aboard submarines and as fighter pilots.

Combat roles for women will be phased in over a three-year period, first with armored and cavalry units and then in the infantry, the ministry said.

The U.S. Department of Defense announced in December that all roles in the U.S. armed forces would be opened to women.

Debate in Congress continues over whether women should be required to register for the draft, with the House voting Thursday to prevent it.

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