Leon Panetta and General Dempsey at a press conference 24 January 2013
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Panetta: Male and female soldiers 'fight and die' together

US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta has lifted the military's ban on women serving in combat roles, potentially opening hundreds of thousands of frontline positions to women.

"Not everyone is going to be able to be a combat soldier," Defence Secretary Leon Panetta said in a press conference formally announcing the move. "But everyone is entitled to a chance."

Lifting the ban would recognise the reality that male and female soldiers were "fighting together and they're dying together", Mr Panetta said.