British Army may let women fight from 2016

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British male soldiers walk with their gear after arriving in Kandahar on October 27, 2014

British male soldiers walk with their gear after arriving in Kandahar on October 27, 2014 (AFP Photo/Wakil Kohsar)

London (AFP) - Women have moved a step closer to front line fighting in the British army from 2016, following a review of the current ban published Friday.

The paper examining whether women should be allowed to serve in ground close combat roles -- where the primary duty is to close in on and kill the enemy -- found the change would not damage troop cohesion.

Defence minister Michael Fallon backed the idea of women serving in infantry roles but any such move will be dependent on research into the physiological effects on female troops.

"Roles in our armed forces should be determined by ability not gender," Fallon said.

"I hope that, following further work on our training regimes and equipment, we can open up combat roles to women in 2016."

Women in the army cannot join the infantry and armoured corps, though they can serve on the front line in a non-combat role. In the other armed forces, they do serve in a variety of combat roles across the forces, including as fighter pilots and sailors, and, from this year, submariners.

The review, launched in May, was carried out by Nicholas Carter, the professional head of the army.

The paper "has ended the long-held view that mixed close ground combat units would have an adverse effect on cohesion between troops", the defence ministry said in a statement.

"However, it also calls for further research into the physiological demands placed on those in close combat roles before a final decision is made on lifting the current exclusion on women."

The ministry said it was important to explore the impact on women's health, saying allowing women into the front line without doing so would be "irresponsible".

"The physiological research programme will investigate how training regimes can be constructed to allow women to integrate safely, whilst protecting combat effectiveness."

Some 10 percent of the 156,630 regular British armed forces personnel are women.

Colonel Mike Dewar, a military historian, said women would be "incapable" of meeting the current battle fitness requirement for soldiers to be able to pick up another man, with his rifle and equipment, and carry him 200 metres.

"I think it's politically driven", he told BBC radio, adding that he had recently spoken to eight senior army generals who thought it was "utter and total madness".