By MATT SIEGEL
Published: September 27, 2011
SYDNEY, Australia ? Australia?s women soldiers will soon be able to serve in all frontline combat roles, government announced on Tuesday.
The move will make Australia just the fourth country in the world to allow women to serve alongside their male counterparts in some of the most dangerous roles in modern warfare, including Special Forces units in Afghanistan.
The announcement by Defense Minister Stephen Smith that the last positions that had remained closed to female soldiers ? including the Special Forces, infantry and some army artillery roles ? would be opened, marks the biggest shakeup of the country?s armed forces in more than a decade and comes on the heels of a series of embarrassing scandals for the Australian Defense Force.
?We have an Australian Army that?s been going for 110 years, an Australian Navy that?s been going formally for 100 years, and an Australian Air Force that?s been going for 90 years, and last night, we resolved to remove the final restrictions on the capacity of women to serve in frontline combat roles,? Mr. Smith said in the capital, Canberra. ?In the future, your role in the defense force will be determined on your ability, not on the basis of your sex.?
Women already play a significant role in the Australian military, which sent more than 2,000 troops to fight in Iraq and currently makes up the largest contingent of any non-NATO member fighting in Afghanistan. As of August, 335 women were serving on overseas operations, accounting for more than 10 percent of Australia?s fighting forces deployed overseas, according to the military.
But while the military says that some 93 percent of positions are open to women under the current regime, numerous combat roles have remained closed. Under the new plan, which Mr. Smith said had been agreed upon during a cabinet meeting on Monday and which will be implemented over a five-year period, those remaining restrictions will be dropped. Australia will now join Canada, New Zealand and Israel as the only developed countries with no restrictions on women serving in frontline capacities.
Women make up 14 percent of the United States armed forces, yet they are barred from serving in certain combat roles, including in the infantry and Special Forces, a sore point for many female soldiers who are often attached to combat units in noncombat roles.
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