US Army Rangers school to graduate first female recruits
Two American women have passed the gruelling training programme of the US Army Rangers - one of the military's most elite special operations forces.
While the women will graduate from the school on Friday, they will not serve in the 75th Ranger Regiment.
The US military has yet to lift a ban on women serving in the fighting force.
This is the first year women attended the training after President Barack Obama ordered the military to accept women in combat roles by 2016.
The military is trying to determine how to best integrate women into combat roles. Opening the Ranger training to women this year is part of that effort.
"This course has proven that every soldier, regardless of gender, can achieve his or her full potential," Secretary of the Army John McHugh said on Monday.
The army did not name the women but said they are officers and graduates of the US Military Academy at West Point, New York.
The two successful graduates will wear the prestigious Ranger Tab on their uniforms.
The 61-day training began in April with 380 men and 19 women. Ninety-four men will graduate alongside the two women.
More than half of candidates - male and female - fail the programme in the first four days of difficult marches, navigation drills and physical fitness tests.
Candidates can train up to 20 hours each day and get a limited amount of sleep.
The training has been watched closely as the military adjusts its policies on female service members. Some critics have alleged the women were granted more lenient treatment, a charge the army denies.
"The feedback I've gotten with these women is how incredibly prepared they are," Retiring Army Chief of Staff Gen Raymond T Odierno told the Washington Post. "They've impressed all that they've come in contact with. They are clearly motivated... and frankly, that's what we want out of our soldiers."
Female soldiers make up about 15% of the army. Since the decision to open combat positions to women, the Department of Defense says they have been granted access to about 91,000 Army positions of the 331,000 that were previously unavailable to them.
Advocates for women say that when female service members have served in combat situations they have performed well.
They also say that excluding women from combat roles has made it harder for female service members to advance to the top levels of the military.