A top Pentagon official says Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is lifting the ban that keeps American women from combat duty in the military.
The official says Panetta will make a formal announcement Thursday and says it is something Panetta wanted to do since becoming defense chief in 2011. He has already 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 front-line combat positions to women in all U.S. military services -- Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard.
Women may still be excluded from some combat jobs in the future. The Pentagon official said the chiefs of U.S. military services will have three years to study that issue.