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Tuesday, 13 February, 2001, 08:27 GMT
General warns against women in frontline
Sir Charles Guthrie
Sir Charles Guthrie in the firing line
The outgoing Chief of the Defence Staff General Sir Charles Guthrie has warned against opening up frontline combat roles to women soldiers.

He also used his last public speaking engagement before stepping down at the end of the week to issue a passionate call for improved recruitment of ethnic minorities into Britain's armed forces.

We must ensure that nothing damages the combat effectiveness of the British armed forces

Sir Charles Guthrie

Sir Charles took as his theme what he called the new British way in warfare, which he summed up as joint-service, multi-national and expeditionary in nature.

But he said the armed forces, while reflecting the society they serve, had to recognise there were perils in slavishly following the dictates of political correctness.

Women in combat

As he has approached retirement, Sir Charles has also been increasingly vocal in expressing publicly his reservations about women serving in close combat situations.

The Army is currently carrying out an assessment of the suitability of women for frontline combat fighting, with the results due to be presented to ministers this spring.
Female soldiers
Sir Charles warns against putting women soldiers on the frontline

Sir Charles, delivering the Liddell Hart lecture at King's College, London, said the Chiefs of Staff would make their final recommendation on the basis of what was right for the forces' operational capability.

"I am not sure that the nation is ready for such a step yet, but from my perspective we must ensure that nothing, I repeat nothing, damages the combat effectiveness of the British armed forces," he said.

Failure to recruit

Sir Charles also said he was saddened by the failure of the armed forces to secure a reasonable number of ethnic minority recruits.

He said: "Seven per cent of the country are from the ethnic minorities now and that figure is going to rise. And we have got to attract them to a service career."

This was not a matter of political correctness, said Sir Charles, but of sound pragmatic judgement, as the military needed to recruit the brightest and the best from all walks of life.

Sir Charles also cautioned against combining the forces into a single service.

Preserving identity

While he acknowledged the growing importance of joint operations, he said it could be "harmful" to end the services' individual identities.

"People, who are our lifeblood, want to join the Naval Service, the Army or the Royal Air Force - not some faceless combined force," he said.

In an address at the Royal United Services Institute in London in December, the general said he welcomed women, homosexuals and ethnic minorities in the army, but "drew the line" at disabled people.

He said the armed forces were different from civilian life, a fact which was often misunderstood.

The general, who leaves the armed forces in a few days' time after a 44-year career, is credited as being one of the most influential serving officers of his generation.

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