The Pentagon said Thursday that it would ease some restrictions on women serving in combat roles, a step that in part codifies the reality on the ground in Afghanistan, where commanders have stretched rules to allow women to support ground combat units.
After a long-delayed review that had been ordered by Congress, the Defense Department said it would open about 14,000 combat-related positions that women had previously been excluded from — but would continue to prohibit them from serving in 238,000 other slots, nearly all of them in the Army and Marine Corps, as well as special operations forces. The changes will take effect in spring unless lawmakers intervene.
Some advocacy groups for women in the military criticized the Pentagon for moving too slowly and for only belatedly recognizing the critical role that female troops have played in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
“It’s a tiny step,” said Anu Bhagwati, a former Marine captain who is now executive director of the Service Women’s Action Network. “It’s a bit of a slap in the face. We’re already doing this stuff.”
Since 2001, about 280,000 women have deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, according to Defense Department statistics; 144 have been killed and 865 have been wounded.