Monday, August 22, 2005

Australian Women Soldiers to be Deployed on Front Line

Image hosted by Photobucket.comSYDNEY (AFP) - Women in the Australian army will now be allowed to serve in frontline units, with some heading for duty in Iraq.

But female soldiers will remain barred from direct combat roles under new regulations agreed after a government review, Veterans' Affairs Minister De-Anne Kelly said.

Up to 15 women will serve in support roles in combat units in the next rotation of troops in Iraq, where Australia has some 900 troops, she said.

"Suitably-qualified women can apply to be posted to armoured and artillery units as well as infantry battalions in support roles in headquarters and administrative units," Kelly said.

"Previously these support roles in combat units have only been open to men.

"Defence policy regarding the employment of women in direct combat roles will not change."

Apart from its deployment in Iraq, Australia is sending 190 troops to Afghanistan before elections there next month.

Kelly said the opening up of new roles for women would give them "a better career path" and make the military a more attractive career option.

The opposition Labor Party's defence spokesman, Robert McClelland, said the decision had been made out of necessity rather than principle as there was "clearly a skills shortage in the defence forces".

Women make up about 13 percent of Australia's military of some 52,000 personnel, with some already serving in senior positions as pilots and naval officers.