Women on Britain's Front Lines

Prime Minister David Cameron opened up ground-combat roles to women, allowing them to serve in any positions for which they qualify.

May Naji / Reuters

NEWS BRIEF Prime Minister David Cameron has lifted his country’s ban on women serving on the front lines of the British military. He made the announcement Friday at the NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland, saying, “It is vital that our armed forces are world-class and reflect the society we live in.”

Women had been able to serve in some positions, but not in ground-combat roles where the primary aim was “to close with and kill the enemy.” The infantry positions they could hold were mostly support roles, like medics, or bomb-disposal experts. Last year, Cameron said he wanted to open ground-combat positions to women, something that not all military leaders have agreed with, as the BBC reported:

In April former Army chief Colonel Richard Kemp said introducing women into such roles would be a "foolish move" that would be "paid for in blood".

Writing in the Telegraph, Col Kemp, who led the British forces in Afghanistan in 2003, argued: "This foolish move will reduce the capability of the infantry, undermine our national defences and put lives in danger."

The announcement comes after an 18-month review that investigated whether women were physically able to take on front-line roles, and if lifting the ban would damage morale. When the study was completed, it found neither to be an issue. Soon after, the head of the army, Chief of the General Staff, Nick Carter, gave his support for women serving in infantry roles.

There are some 7,000 women in the British army. A defense expert with the BBC said that of those, about 5 percent were believed to to be able to pass the infantry’s tests.