More than 60 women join Australian combat roles

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Associated Press

Posted on June 3, 2014 at 12:32 AM

Updated Thursday, Jun 5 at 9:00 AM

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — More than 60 women had signed up for combat roles in the Australian military such as in the infantry and as tank crews since gender restrictions were lifted last year from the most dangerous defense jobs, an official said.

But the military has refused to say whether any Australian woman had fought in a combat role in Afghanistan.

Australian Defense Chief Gen. David Hurley told a Senate committee on Tuesday that 63 women were either in frontline roles or training for them since gender barriers were lifted across the army, navy and air force in January 2013.

But women opting for direct combat roles still make up a tiny proportion of the 8,000 women in the Australian Defense Force. Women account for 14 percent of Australia's military.

Women had been banned from the infantry, special forces, field artillery units, tanks, armored vehicles, mine clearing, bomb disposal and from guard duty at air force bases.

The Defense Department said in a statement Wednesday that most of the 63 women — 15 permanent personnel and 48 reservists — had chosen army jobs with a few opting for navy and air force roles. The department declined to release total numbers within the various roles, "as this has the potential to place undue pressure on any individual pursuing a combat role."

The department cited operational reasons for refusing to disclose whether any woman had served in a combat role in Afghanistan.

"We don't spotlight women in combat roles," Hurley told the committee on Tuesday. "We think that would put more pressure on them."

The formerly male-only jobs are open only to women currently enlisted in the military services. Civilian women will be able to be recruited directly into these jobs from 2016.

Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Israel and a few European countries have no restrictions, or limited restrictions, on women in combat roles.

By January 2016, the U.S. military must open all combat jobs to women or explain why any must remain closed.

Removing gender barriers from the military faced resistance both within the ranks as well as in the wider Australian population. The Australian Defense Association, an influential security think-tank, warned that physical differences between the genders would leave even physically strong women more vulnerable in combat than their male comrades.

Australia has ended combat operations in Afghanistan and withdrew about 1,000 troops in 2013, but still has about 400 troops there in advisory and training roles. Australia has lost 40 troops in the Afghan campaign since 2002.

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