US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has announced that the Pentagon is removing the military's ban on women serving in front-line combat, opening the door for American women to kill-- and be killed-- in increasing numbers.
Panetta's decision overturns a 1994 Pentagon rule barring females from serving in smaller ground combat units, paving the way for them to join special forces and other elite outfits. The various services now have until 2016 to request special exemptions if they have reason to believe that certain roles must be reserved exclusively for men.
The removal of the ban on women in combat follows a 2012 move by the Army to open 14,000 combat-related jobs.
The inclusion of women in combat roles has been hailed by many female service members, some of whom have sued for the right to fight alongside men on the front lines. But along with newfound rights come increased risks-- more than 100 female troops have died during the ongoing War on Terror. Many times that number have been wounded and others suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injuries (TBI) and other combat-related issues.
There is also the issue of rape and sexual assault committed by male troops, an epidemic that claims thousands of victims each year.
Still, Panetta's move brings the US armed forces much closer to being able to boast true and full equality. Canada, Israel, Norway, Sri Lanka, Israel and New Zealand currently allow women in most, and in the case of New Zealand, all, combat roles. In 1995, Norway became the first nation to allow females to serve on submarines. American women have been serving on subs since 2011.