UK infantry ban on women soldiers remains, MoD rules

Female members of 656 Squadron, 4 Regiment Army Air Corps in Afghanistan Women perform many front-line roles away from the infantry

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Women are to remain barred from close-combat roles in the UK armed forces.

They currently support front-line operations in logistics, artillery and engineering teams but are banned from the infantry or tactical combat teams.

A Ministry of Defence review said there was no doubt women were "physically and psychologically" capable of the job.

But it concluded the effects of "gender-mixing" on team cohesion were unknown and could have "far-reaching and grave consequences".

Defence Personnel Minister Andrew Robathan said: "Women are fundamental to the operational effectiveness of Britain's armed forces, bringing talent and skills across the board.

"Their capability is not in doubt; they win the highest decorations for valour and demonstrate independence and initiative."

Analysis

It's no surprise that the MoD has decided to keep the status quo on women in combat roles. There has been little or no public clamour for change in the UK, and little from within the armed forces or from women themselves serving in Afghanistan - although there has been a quiet revolution in the number of women being put in harm's way in Britain's wars over the past decades.

Women already serve on the front lines in Afghanistan, and did so in Iraq, with women killed or injured in the line of duty in both wars.

The front lines of today are more fluid than in the past, especially in counter-insurgency campaigns, while serving in supporting roles - for example, working as a medic or in intelligence - means some women already do go out on patrols.

Women's front-line roles also include flying combat and support aircraft, serving on warships and in ground combat support roles. Several women have been awarded medals for bravery in Afghanistan and Iraq. On operations in villages and compounds in Helmand and Kandahar, Afghan women can be searched only by other women - making females essential in those roles.

But he said the findings of the review into whether they should be required to fight face-to-face with the enemy were inconclusive.

"There was no evidence to show that a change in current policy would be beneficial or risk free and so a decision was made to take a precautionary approach and maintain the current position," he added.

There are more than 18,000 women serving in the combined services, nearly 10% of all personnel, according to the latest defence statistics. Nearly 3,900 are officers.

This is the largest number of women in the forces since the end of World War II.

Women make up just under 10% of the Royal Navy, nearly 8% of the Army and 13.7% of the Royal Air Force, and there are higher proportions of women officers in all three services.

Most posts across the services are open to women: 71% in the navy, 67% in the Army and 96% in the RAF.

European rules require the policy on eligibility for close-combat roles to be reviewed every eight years and evidence of women serving on the front line in Iraq and Afghanistan was taken into account.

The study also looked at other nations' literature about the effectiveness of mixed-gender teams in close-combat roles and the experiences of male and female personnel who have served together on the front line but, decided the case for lifting restrictions had not been made.

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