WASHINGTON - The Pentagon unveiled a new policy on Thursday that will expand job opportunities for women in the military but shift them closer to the fighting, rekindling the issue of women in combat.
The move is part of a Pentagon effort to begin eliminating some of the gender-based discrimination that has prevented greater diversity in the overall force. It came in response to recommendations a year ago from a Military Leadership Diversity Commission mandated by Congress.
Under the new rules, the Defense Department would continue to prohibit women from serving in infantry, armor and special operations units whose main function is to engage in front-line combat, defense officials said.
Asked why women who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan conducting security details and house-to-house searches were still formally being barred from combat positions, the officials said the services wanted to see how they performed in the new positions before opening up further.
"Secretary (Leon) Panetta believes that this is the beginning, not the end of a process," Pentagon Press Secretary George Little told a briefing. "The services will continue to review positions and requirements to determine what additional positions may be opened to women."