Women should be allowed to serve fully in combat, a military advisory panel said Friday in a report seeking to dismantle the last major area of discrimination in the armed forces.
The call by a commission of current and retired military officers to let women be front-line fighters could set in motion another sea change in military culture as the armed forces grapples with the phasing out of the ban on gays serving openly.
The newest move is being recommended by the Military Leadership Diversity Commission, established by Congress two years ago. The panel was to send its proposals to Congress and President Obama.
It is time "to create a level playing field for all qualified service members," the members said.
Opponents of putting women in combat question whether they have the necessary strength and stamina. They also have said the inclusion of women in infantry and other combat units might harm unit cohesion and warned that Americans won't tolerate large numbers of women coming home in body bags.
Congress recently stripped the "don't ask, don't tell" ban on gays serving openly, and the Navy changed its rules over the last year to allow women to serve on submarines for the first time.
Women are barred from certain combat assignments in all the services but face the most restrictions in the Army and Marines.
Although thousands of American women have served in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and 134 of them have died, they have been largely restricted to combat support jobs such as medics or logistical and transportation officers.
Defense policy prohibits women from being assigned to any unit smaller than a brigade whose primary mission is direct combat on the ground.
The new report says that keeping women out of combat posts prohibits them from serving in roughly 10 percent of Marine Corps and Army occupational specialties and thus is a barrier to advancement.
Women generally make up about 14 percent of the armed services.