Defence Secretary Leon E. Panetta is lifting the military's ban on women in combat, which will open up hundreds of thousands of additional front-line jobs to them, senior defense officials said Wednesday.
The groundbreaking decision overturns a 1994 Pentagon rule that restricts women from many positions in the infantry and artillery, even though in reality women have found themselves in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, where more than 20,000 have served. As of last year, more than 800 women had been wounded in the two conflicts and more than 130 had died.
Defence officials offered few details about Mr Panetta's decision but described it as the beginning of a process to allow the branches of the military to put it into effect. Defence officials said Mr Panetta had made the decision on the recommendation of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Women have long chafed under the combat restrictions and have increasingly pressured the Pentagon to catch up with the reality on the battlefield. The move comes as Mr Panetta is about to step down from his post and would leave him with a substantial legacy after only 18 months in the job.