Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he foresaw a day when the military would lift its ban on women serving in elite special forces.

Although military rules bar women from ground combat, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have thrust female troops into firefights and forced US commanders to review the policy.

Gates said he expected the prohibition against women in US Special Operations forces would be phased out in a deliberate manner similar to the way women have been allowed to serve on submarines since earlier this year.

“It will happen, but it will happen in the same very careful way that women in submarines is being done,” Gates told an audience of students enrolled in reserve officer training in North Carolina.

As a first step, female officers are being assigned to larger Ohio-class nuclear-powered submarines.

The larger vessels make it easier to accommodate female crew members, and each team of women includes a more senior female officer who serves as a “mentor,” Gates said.

“My guess is at some point… there’ll be a careful step in that direction with Special Operations forces,” he said.

The crack special forces’ units carry out some of the military’s most dangerous and sensitive operations, sabotaging targets behind enemy lines and hunting down suspected terrorists, but have remained one of the last all-male bastions in the armed forces.

Source: AFP

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