The UK Defense Secretary has announced that combat roles in the military, including the special forces, will now be open to women.

Gavin Williamson made the historic declaration this week in which he also said that women already in the ranks of the British Army will be able to apply for frontline combat roles, including into the elite “Special Air Service” (SAS) and Royal Marines. Those not currently serving would be able to apply for infantry roles in December, with new recruits starting basic training in April 2019.

“Women have led the way with exemplary service in the armed forces for over 100 years, working in a variety of specialist and vital roles,” Mr. Williamson proclaimed.

“I am delighted that from today, for the first time in its history, our armed forces will be determined by ability alone and not gender. Opening all combat roles to women will not only make the armed forces a more modern employer but will ensure we recruit the right person for the right role,” he added.

A National Audit Office (NAO) report in April 2018 found that the total number of full-time military personnel was about 8,200 people short of the standard level required. At the time the report gave a rather doom-and-gloom summarization that the shortfall constituted “the largest gap in a decade” in Britain’s armed forces, including among full-time personnel in the army.

As a consequence, some will likely see the latest move by London to speed up the introduction of women into the forces as a possible quick fix attempt to make up for those shortages.

The issue has managed to stimulate a heated discussion on social media, with strong opinions coming thick and fast from both opponents and supporter of the new measure.

“While the military does not necessarily expect large numbers of women to apply for ground close combat roles, the changes are aimed at creating opportunities for individuals from all backgrounds and making the most of their talents,” the Defence Ministry.

The United States, Canada, Australia, Israel and Germany are among other advanced militaries that allow women in combat roles.

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