Military women may soon find more jobs available to them, if as expected, the Pentagon will begin to allow women on the frontlines of combat. Supporters lauded the Pentagon's decision, calling this a 'historic moment'.
The U.S. military will formally end its ban on women serving in frontline combat roles, officials said on Wednesday, in a move that could open thousands of fighting jobs to female service members for the first time.
The move knocks down another societal barrier in the U.S. armed forces, after the Pentagon in 2011 scrapped its "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" ban on gays and lesbians serving openly in the military.
U.S. defense officials said the decision to end the ban had been taken by outgoing U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and individual military services would have until 2016 to seek exemptions if they believed any combat roles should remain closed to women.
Panetta is expected to announce the decision formally on Thursday. It will come after 11 years of non-stop war that has seen 84 women killed as a result of hostile action in the unpopular, costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The military services will have until May 15 to submit a plan on how they will comply by 2016.
Women have represented around 2 percent of the casualties of in Iraq and Afghanistan and some 12 percent - or 300,000 - of those deployed in the war efforts in the past 11 years, in which there were often no clearly defined front lines, and where deadly guerrilla tactics have included roadside bombs that kill and maim indiscriminately.
"This is an historic step for equality and for recognizing the role women have, and will continue to play, in the defense of our nation," said Democratic Senator Patty Murray from Washington, the outgoing head of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.
The planned move was also welcomed by Democratic Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, head of the Senate Armed Services Committee, who said it reflected the "reality of 21st century military operations."
The American Civil Liberties Union, which filed a suit in November seeking to force the Pentagon to end the ban, applauded the move, which overturns a 1994 policy preventing women from serving in small front-line combat units.