Army 'must consider' female combat roles

General Sir Peter Wall Image copyright Reuters
Image caption General Sir Peter Wall said army would have to take a view "fairly soon"

The British army must consider allowing women to take close combat roles, the chief of general staff has said.

Under current rules in Britain, women can serve on the front line but are banned from close combat.

But Gen Sir Peter Wall told Soldier magazine that women should have equal opportunities and allowing them to participate in close combat would make the armed forces "look more normal".

The Ministry of Defence said the rules were due to be reviewed in 2018.

'Fairly soon'

Last year, the United States lifted its ban on women serving in such roles, joining many other countries around the world.

Sir Peter said Britain must take a view on whether to also change its policy "fairly soon".

He said a rethink was "definitely something that we need to be considering seriously" but he cautioned that some people would always believe "close battle is no place for female soldiers."

Sir Peter - who is responsible for developing military capability in the Army - said he wanted women to "know the service is open to them".

He said: "Women need to see they have equal opportunities right throughout the organisation.

"Allowing them to be combat troops would make us look more normal society but there will always be people who say the close battle is no place for female soldiers."

But he cautioned: "We need to go about this with great care, especially with all the other changes going on [in the armed forces]."

Team cohesion

The Ministry of Defence is required under European Law to review its policy every eight years.

The last review in 2010 raised concerns that having men and women in small units for months at a time could undermine "team cohesion".

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Other countries - including the United States - allow women to participate in close combat roles

But it said women would be able to meet the physical and psychological demands of the roles.

An MoD spokesman said: "The vast majority of roles in the armed forces are open to women and hundreds are currently serving their country with distinction in Afghanistan.

Operational effectiveness

"They are fundamental to the operational effectiveness of the UK's armed forces, bringing talent and skills across the board.

"A 2010 review into women serving in combat roles concluded there should be no change to the existing policy and another review will take place before 2018."

There has been debate within the armed forces about whether women should be allowed in close combat roles.

Brigadier Nicky Moffat - who became one of the most senior female army officers - said in January 2013 that it was wrong to dismiss people just on gender.

She said she was "deeply uncomfortable" with the idea of excluding a whole group of potentially capable soldiers, just because they were women.

But responding at the time Major Judith Webb, who became the first woman to command an all-male field squadron, said that women might not meet the standards required for combat duty.

She said that opening it up to women might be self-defeating because they were not going to meet those standards.

"Two women who made it through marine training in the US didn't qualify."

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