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US House Debates Role of Women in Combat

A debate is raging in the U.S. House of Representatives over a provision in a defense bill that would limit the role of women in direct ground combat.

Should women in the U.S. military be allowed to serve in ground combat?

This issue is being examined in the House of Representatives, which is set to vote this week on a defense bill that includes an amendment prohibiting women from serving in infantry, armor or artillery units.

Speaking on the ABC television program, "This Week," Republican Duncan Hunter, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, supports the provision. "I think one of the marks of civilization is we have not had our women in direct ground combat. In fact, we have decried the enemy when they have pushed women into the frontlines and into combat situations, and utilized women to attack combat forces. We have said that is wrong. That is not something that civilized nations do," he said.

Congressman Hunter listed several reasons he thinks women should not be on the frontlines. "And there are a host of factors, the privacy factor, the fact that you have no privacy in a brutal infantry operation, that you have the grimness. You know, one of the proponents of women in combat some years ago said, the next war is going to be a push-button war, so it does not make any difference how we draw this line. We should have women in these ground combat units. We have discovered in Iraq it is not a push-button war. It is as brutal and grim as the operation we undertook in Fallujah, where we had 78 Marines killed in action, most of them at very close range," he said.

On the same program, retired Naval Captain Rosemary Mariner asserted that the 1994 ban on combat for women in the U.S. Army, which supporters have included in the House bill, is obsolete. "I think the real problem here is that the policy that the Army is operating under right now is out of date, and it is the source of the confusion. So, the last thing we want to do is codify, etch in stone a confusing policy that is 11-years old and not pertinent to a world that has changed, three years into a shooting war in Iraq," she said.

Captain Mariner is the first woman to have commanded a naval aviation squad.

She said a blanket ban on women in combat could create confusion for senior officers, who may assign women to support jobs in combat zones. She added that such a law could worsen the U.S. military's manpower shortfalls.

Captain Mariner acknowledged that war is ugly. But she said all citizens have responsibilities to defend their country. "I think war is uncivilized. And what we have to remember is that American women, as men, are adult citizens. They make a choice to join the military, whether they serve for a career or a short period of time. When they sign that contract, they understand the risks. Now, this particular conflict, there are no obvious frontlines. And that is not new in American history," she said.

The ban on women in direct combat is included in the House version of a 400-billion dollar bill that sets Defense Department policy and spending for the upcoming budget year.