Australia considers sending women into combat
Australian women could serve in frontline combat units, including special forces, as the country's military attempts to ease a recruitment crisis, the government said Wednesday, Reuters reported.
Junior Defense Minister Greg Combet said all sections of the country's small but advanced military should be open to women, including special forces units currently fighting Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan.
"The only exceptions should be where the physical demands cannot be met according to criteria that are determined on the basis of scientific analysis rather than assumptions about gender," Combet said.
Australian women already serve in front-line roles flying helicopters and bombing aircraft, as well as on submarines and surface warships, but are excluded from front-line infantry units and special forces commandos.
Removing gender restrictions would put Australia ahead of key allies including the United States and Britain in opening combat roles to females, and into line with several European countries, including Denmark and Germany, as well as Israel and New Zealand.
Critics of women serving in fighting units argue that female soldiers are not as strong as males -- a crucial factor in close combat -- while their presence can be a disruption, with men placing their lives at more risk to protect female comrades.
"I don't think the people of Australia would like to see their daughters, sisters, wives or female friends killed in disproportionate numbers to male service personnel," Neil James, executive director of the Australia Defense Association, told Australian Radio.
"It's a simple physicality thing. On the battlefield, academic gender equity theory doesn't apply. The laws of physics and biomechanics apply," James said.
Combet said it would be several years before women were eligible for military roles, as recruitment and physical employment standards were still being developed.
Australia has around 1,550 troops in Afghanistan, based mainly in southern Oruzgan province, and is the largest non-NATO contributor to international forces battling the Taliban.
But the country's 53,000-strong military faces serious recruiting shortages with soldiers stretched from East Timor to Iraq, Afghanistan and the restive Solomon Islands.