United States Defence Secretary Leon Panetta has decided to allow women to serve in combat roles in the military, a senior official said on Thursday, as lawmakers termed the ground-breaking move as historic.
The announcement in this regard to lift the direct combat exclusion rule for women in the US military is expected by Panetta and General Martin Dempsey, chairman of joint chiefs of staff, a senior US defence official said.
"This policy change will initiate a process whereby the services will develop plans to implement this decision, which was made by the Secretary of defence upon the recommendation of the Joint chiefs of staff," the senior defence official said.
The official however provided no further details and did not indicate when the announcement might take place. US lawmakers termed it as a historic decision.
"I support it. It reflects the reality of 21st century military operations," said Senator Carl Levin, chairman of the senate armed services committee.
Ranking Republican Senator John McCain said he respects and support Panetta's decision to lift the ban on women serving in combat.
"The fact is that American women are already serving in harm's way today all over the world and in every branch of our armed forces. Many have made the ultimate sacrifice, and our nation owes them a deep debt of gratitude," he said.
"As this new rule is implemented, it is critical that we maintain the same high standards that have made the American military the most feared and admired fighting force in the world, particularly the rigorous physical standards for our elite special forces units," McCain said.
Praising Panetta for overturning provisions that kept women from serving in front-line combat positions, Senator Ben Cardin said yet another glass ceiling is about to be shattered.
"I applaud Secretary Panetta's actions that will open up thousands of front-line combat positions to America's brave military women, giving them an equal opportunity to serve their nation, earn promotions and move up through the ranks as their male counterparts," Cardin said.
"America's military is the greatest in the world and it has been made stronger today with the promise of equal opportunity for women and men," he said.
However, an eminent women's group expressed its concern over Panetta's decision.
"News of Defence Secretary Leon Panetta's intent to lift the long-standing ban on women serving in direct combat is further proof that this administration simply does not care about the issues about which the majority of women care," said Penny Nance, CEO and President of Concerned Women for America Legislative Action Committee.
"Once again, their interest on women issues is driven by special interest groups. The point of the military is to protect our country. Anything that distracts from that is detrimental," she said.
"Our military cannot continue to choose social experimentation and political correctness over combat readiness," she said.
"While this decision is not unexpected from this administration, it is still disappointing. Concerned Women for America and its more than half-a-million members around the country will continue to do all we can to see that our men and women in uniform are governed with the respect and resources needed to do the hard task of fighting for and protecting our freedoms," Nance said.