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ARLINGTON, Va. — The Army is considering whether to formally add women to its new “units of action” structure — which includes combat units — a discussion that had opponents of women in combat up in arms.

Under a 10-year-old ban, women are not allowed to be part of combat units, such as armored cavalry or the infantry.

The Army has no intention of altering the ban against women in combat positions, according to Lt. Col. Chris Rodney, an Army spokesman at the Pentagon.

But as the war on terror has shown, from the Sept. 11 attacks to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, this conflict has no “front lines” from which women can be protected from combat.

Anywhere, at any time, can quickly become a front line, military and U.S. government leaders often point out.

To accommodate this new style of combat, which requires fast, flexible and often very violent responses, the Army is in the middle of “transforming” itself: a plan that places the emphasis on “units of action,” self-contained, self-reliant brigade combat teams that will replace the traditional large, cumbersome divisions.

Part of those “UAs,” according to Rodney said, are “Forward Support Companies” that would be a regular part of the Units of Action.

“The bottom line is, there is no intent right now to lift the ban on women in direct combat units,” Rodney said. “There has been no change to the current policy, and there is no intent to reverse the ban.”

And the issue of whether to make support units including women part of combat units, however, is under discussion only, Rodney said.

“Nothing is final,” Rodney said.

However, there is more to the issue, first reported by The Washington Times on Friday: There is a clause in the ban signed by then-Defense Secretary Les Aspin that says women are not allowed to serve “where units and positions are doctrinally required to physically collocate and remain with direct ground combat units that are closed to women.”

But women are not banned from such tasks as driving trucks, working in mess halls, repairing helicopters, and other jobs that either hold the potential for enemy attacks, or require close proximity to combat units.

And because combat units cannot do their jobs without maintenance and other support assistance, “there have been support units attached to maneuver units” in both Afghanistan and Iraq that include women, Rodney pointed out.

The difference is that such units are temporarily “attached,” to the combat units they support, not permanently assigned.

The plan under discussion by the Army would make such support units a regular part of a Unit of Action, Rodney confirmed.

For now, several female soldiers are assigned to the 601st Aviation Support Battalion, which supports the 1st Squadron, 4th U.S. Cavalry at Forward Operating Base McKenzie, Iraq.

The 1-4 Cavalry is responsible for a large area that includes Samarra, one of the more restive cities in central Iraq.

But Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness in Livonia, Mich., and a leading opponent of women in combat, expressed surprise to hear that female soldiers are, in fact, attached to combat units in Iraq.

Donnelly said that Congress must be informed 30 legislative days (approximately three months) of any changes the Army is considering making to the statute.

“It remains to be seen, definitively, if the Army is violating the law,” Donnelly said. “For any official in the Army to disregard that law would certainly be a serious matter.”

Civilian leaders in the Office of the Secretary of Defense have already been informed of the new … in “lower-level meetings,” according to an Army officer who asked not to be named because participating in such meetings are not part of his responsibilities.

“There are regular meetings that discuss transformation, and this is one of many things that is being looked at,” the officer said.

And Congress “will certainly be consulted if and when” the Army decides it would like to make any changes to the current rules, the officer said.

Since the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, 24 of the 793 combat deaths have been female soldiers.


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