A top Pentagon official says U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is lifting the ban that keeps women from combat duty in the military.
The official says Panetta will make a formal announcement later Thursday, adding that this is something Panetta has wanted to do since becoming defense chief in 2011. He already has opened 50,000 military jobs to women in the last two years.
The official says Panetta is giving military chiefs until May to draw up plans for implementing the new policy, which could open thousands of frontline combat positions to women in all U.S. military services -- Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard.
In the military, serving in combat positions remains key to career advancement. Women have long said that by not recognizing their real service, the military has unfairly held them back.
Women still may be excluded from some combat jobs in the future and will have to meet strict physical requirements for every job. The Pentagon official says the chiefs of U.S. military services will have three years to study that issue.