Women will soon be allowed to fight alongside men on the front line as the government looks to relax restrictions on them joining infantry regiments.
A six month study into whether women are suited to fight in combat units has alleviated concerns that the Ministry of Defence had about these positions, the Telegraph reports.
Although the report made no firm recommendation, defence chiefs were concerned about opening up units such as the Royal Marines where the primary role of the unit is to ‘kill the enemy.’
Women have been fighting in front line positions in Iraq and Afghanistan, for example as medics or intelligence soldiers attached to an infantry unit, where due to the nature of the fighting they have to engage and kill opposition troops.
Other countries, including America, Australia and Canada have already lifted their restrictions and with more research to be commissioned it is looking increasingly more likely the UK will follow suit.
A senior Whitehall source said: “This is an important decision and we want to get it right. The review has so far not been conclusive and more research is needed. But overall the MoD is leaning towards making the change.”
The research was overseen by the then Chief of the General Staff Gen Sir Peter Wall and was taken over by his successor, Gen Sir Nick Carter.
The two main issues of concern are whether women are physically strong enough and tough enough to serve in frontline units and whether they are more prone to injury.
But there is also a key worry over the camaraderie which exists in these battalions and whether having women join would break that up and potentially cause problems should relationships form.
The research has been inconclusive on whether women will harm the cohesion and effectiveness but there has been evidence from Afghanistan that women were more prone to injury when carrying large amounts of kit for long periods.
The move will be controversial, whatever the decision. Col Richard Kemp, a former commander of British troops in Afghanistan, said he believed standards would inevitably be relaxed as women would struggle to meet the physical challenges which include needing great upper body strength as well as being ‘running fit’ and there would be a detrimental effect on morale.
“A combat unit’s job is to close with and kill the enemy, often in hand to hand combat with bayonets and grenades.”
“To get people to do that, to get out of a trench and attack a machine gun requires a certain comradeship and cohesion. I believe that is at its greatest when it’s between a band of brothers, that is between men.”
“There will be very, very few women who will want to do this and a risk that none or hardly any will succeed. Then there will be pressure to lower standards” he said.
But Joanne Mackowski, an expert on the issue of women in combat at the Royal United Services Institute pointed out that women take on front line roles in other risky industries and have been doing so in recent conflicts.
“In one way it would be an enormous change. But on the other hand, while we have never had women officially in combat roles, women have been on the frontline in Afghanistan for more than a decade.”
“We also have women firefighters and police officers who are in similar situations where everyone’s life depends on their colleagues” she added.