WASHINGTON — Women in America will now be able to drive tanks, fire mortars and lead infantry soldiers as the US military has decided to open up all positions including frontline combat roles for them, a move hailed by US President Barack Obama as a “historic step forward”.

“We cannot afford to cut ourselves off from half the country’s talents and skills. We have to take full advantage of every individual who can meet our standards,” Defence Secretary Ashton Carter announced at a Pentagon news conference yesterday.

Over the years, in particular during the last seven years of Obama Administration, armed forces have gradually opened up for women. However, approximately 10 per cent of positions in the military currently remain closed to women, including infantry, armour, reconnaissance and some special operations units.

“Today, I’m announcing my decision not to make continued exceptions, that is, to proceed with opening all these remaining occupations and positions to women. There will be no exceptions. This means that, as long as they qualify and meet the standards, women will now be able to contribute to our mission in ways they could not before,” Carter said.

“They’ll be allowed to drive tanks, fire mortars, and lead infantry soldiers into combat. They’ll be able to serve as Army rangers and green berets, Navy SEALS, Marine Corps infantry, Air Force para jumpers and everything else that was previously open only to men,” he said.

“Even more importantly, our military will be better able to harness the skills and perspectives that talented women have to offer,” he said.

No exceptions was the recommendation of the Secretary of the Army, the secretary of the Air Force, and the secretary of the Navy, as well as the chief of staff of the Army, chief of staff of the Air Force, chief of Naval operations, and the commander of US Special Operations Command.

“While the Marine Corps asked for a partial exception in some areas such as infantry, machine gunner, fire support reconnaissance and others, we are a joint force, and I have decided to make a decision which applies to the entire force,” Carter said.

Carter said he has now directed seven guidelines to be used to steer this implementation.

President Obama said the US military’s decision to open all combat roles to women will strengthen the nation’s armed forces.

“Today, the Defense Department is taking another historic step forward by opening up the remaining 10 per cent of military positions, including combat roles, to women. As Commander in Chief, I know that this change, like others before it, will again make our military even stronger,” Obama said in a statement. PNA/PTI