WASHINGTON (AP) -- Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, in announcing he is lifting a ban on women serving in combat, said he believes women have become an integral part of the military's ability to succeed.
Panetta made his announcement with the Joint Chiefs chairman, Gen. Martin Dempsey, at a Pentagon news conference. Panetta said that not everyone can meet the qualifications to be a combat soldier. But, he said, everyone is entitled to the chance.
He said the qualifications will not be reduced, and with women playing a broader role, the military will be strengthened.
President Barack Obama says allowing women to serve in combat marks another step toward the country's founding ideals of fairness and equality.
Obama says in a written statement he expressed strong support for the decision to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who lifted the combat ban Thursday.
Obama says he is confident the decision -- coupled with the recent repeal of the ban on gays in the military -- will strengthen the U.S. military.
The president says, quote, "Today, every American can be proud that our military will grow even stronger, with our mothers, wives, sisters and daughters playing a greater role in protecting this country we love."
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Senior defense officials say Pentagon chief Leon Panetta is removing the military's ban on women serving in combat, opening hundreds of thousands of front-line positions and potentially elite commando jobs after more than a decade at war.
The groundbreaking move recommended by the Joint Chiefs of Staff overturns a 1994 rule banning women from being assigned to smaller ground combat units. Panetta's decision gives the military services until January 2016 to seek special exceptions if they believe any positions must remain closed to women.