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Last Updated: Thursday, 19 May, 2005, 11:04 GMT 12:04 UK
US rejects ban on women in combat
By Adam Brookes
BBC News, Washington

Private Jessica Lynch at her homecoming
Private Jessica Lynch was badly injured in Iraq
Republicans in the US Congress have ditched a flat ban on women in combat.

The House Armed Services Committee watered down proposals which would stop women from serving in support teams which back up front-line combat troops.

Advocates of the plan say the women get too close to the fighting, but the US army, facing problems with recruitment, was opposed to the move.

Senior officers said they would have had to pull 22,000 female soldiers out of their jobs to replace them with men.

They also warned of damage to morale, with the army's vice-chief of staff saying in a letter that the plan "would cause confusion in the ranks".

No front line

Women who serve in the US army are barred from fighting on the front line under rules drawn up by the Pentagon a decade ago.

But in Iraq, the US is fighting an insurgency - which means there is no front line.

About 9,000 women are serving in Iraq and 35 have been killed.

Combat can happen anywhere at any time, and women have frequently been caught up in it.

Republican committee members wanted to pass a measure which would keep women out of units "forward support companies" in the army, closing off jobs which provide maintenance, medical services or supplies to the front line.

The army is deeply opposed to the measure. Underlying the army's opposition are the problems it is having recruiting new troops.

For the last three months, the army has failed to meet its recruiting targets. At the moment it looks set to miss its annual target by 15%.

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