Belfast Telegraph

Friday 24 October 2014

Call for frontline ban to be axed

A retired senior Army officer has said women should be allowed to take close combat roles

The London Olympics proved that Britain has the sort of women who could fight alongside men on the frontline in the Army, a female former senior soldier has said.

Brigadier Nicky Moffat, who retired in December, urged defence chiefs to match the United States by lifting a ban on women taking on close combat roles.

US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta announced this week that up to 237,000 jobs were being opened up to the female ranks - who make up 15% of the US military.

"Their career success and their specific opportunities should be based solely on their ability to successfully carry out an assigned mission. Everyone deserves that chance," he said.

Brig Moffat said it was right that combat troops had to meet "extraordinarily demanding" physical standards in order to be approved for combat but she said she felt "deeply uncomfortable" that women were barred from even trying to pass those tests, she told BBC Radio 4.

"It is not just about physical strength. It's about endurance, it's about ability to operate within a team, it's about a range of skills. We shouldn't dismiss the point about strength. The infantry combat fitness test is extraordinarily demanding and individuals are required to carry Herculean amounts of kit.

"But if we look at the achievements of our women Olympians I don't think any reasonable person could say that there aren't some women who could meet those standards."

Sex discrimination laws do not apply to the armed forces where they need to ensure "combat effectiveness".

Germany, Australia and Canada allow female soldiers to enter close combat but critics say money will be wasted training women who will not be able to meet the physical standards.

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said the situation would not be reviewed before the end of combat operations in Afghanistan - due at the end of next year. "The vast majority of roles in the Armed Forces are open to women and hundreds are currently serving their country with distinction in Afghanistan," he said.

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