London: A ban on women serving in close combat roles in the British military was lifted on Friday, with Prime Minister David Cameron calling it a major step that would ensure the armed forces can make the most of all their talent.
- Women could earlier serve on frontline but not infantry or armoured corps
- 'Vital our armed forces reflect the society we live in', said PM Cameron
- The relaxation of the ban will be done in a phased manner
Mr Cameron confirmed the move at a NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland.
Under current rules, women were able to serve on the frontline, but not where the primary aim was to "close with and kill the enemy" - ruling them out of serving in the infantry or armoured corps.
"I have asked that this is implemented as soon as possible. It is vital that our armed forces are world-class and reflect the society we live in. Lifting this ban is a major step. It will ensure the armed forces can make the most of all their talent and increase opportunities for women to serve in the full range of roles," he said.
A phased relaxation of the ban will see jobs in tank units open to women within a year and infantry jobs opened up later.
Internal reviews led by General Sir Nick Carter, Chief of the UK's General Staff, have spent two years looking at whether women are physically strong and tough enough to serve in frontline infantry units, and whether they are more prone to injury.
UK defence secretary Michael Fallon has previously said he hoped to "open up combat roles to women" in 2016, saying roles "should be determined by ability and not gender".
Fallon ordered an 18-month review of training procedures and the physical demands of fighting to ensure the change can be made without damaging female soldiers' health. Speaking in December last year, Cameron said: "The Defence Secretary [Michael Fallon] and I are united in wanting to see all roles in our armed forces opened up to women in 2016.
"We've already lifted a number of barriers in our armed forces with the introduction of female submariners and women reaching the highest ranks in all services. We should finish the job next year and open up ground combat roles to women."
The first women will start in frontline combat roles in the UK's Royal Armoured Corps from November. This will extend to all areas of the armed forces by the end of 2018, including the infantry, air force, marines and special forces.