Australian women will be allowed to serve in frontline combat roles, including with special forces units in Afghanistan, provided they meet the physical and psychological requirements, the government announced Tuesday.
Australia, a close U.S. ally, will join Canada, Denmark, New Zealand and Israel to open all combat roles to female soldiers, the Independent reports. Britain and the US exclude women from dedicated infantry roles.
Australia already allows women to serve on submarines, as air force jet fighter pilots and as drone aircraft operators, but women are barred from serving as front-line infantry soldiers, navy clearance divers, mine-disposal experts and airfield guards.
Although the ban will be lifted immediately, the army has five years to implement new tests and train army doctors to operate on women, News24 reports
Defense Minister Stephen Smith told reporters:
"Once this is fully implemented there will be no restrictions. If a woman is fully capable of doing the entrance program for the Special Air Service or Commandos, they'll be in it."
In order to take on such roles, women candidates must still pass physical entry tests. Entry to Australia's elite special forces unit — known as the Special Air Service, or SAS — involves endurance marches over several days in scorching temperatures in the outback, while carrying weapons, water and an 80 kilogram (176 pound) pack, News24 reports.
According to the New York Times:
Smith proposed dropping the restrictions in April amid the fallout from a series of military scandals at home and abroad. In the most notorious case, a male cadet at the elite Australian Defense Force Academy was caught streaming video of himself having sex with a female cadet to his friends via Skype without her knowledge.
Smith said he didn't expect opposition from foreign allies, including U.S. troops serving with Australian soldiers in Afghanistan, the Independent reports.
"I'm not expecting any difficulty as a result of what to the government and the service chiefs is a logical extension to a very strongly held view in Australian society that all of us are equal, irrespective of our sex," the defense minister reportedly said.
Australia was an original member of the U.S.-led coalition that invaded Afghanistan, and has has around 1,550 troops stationed there, mainly at Tirin Kot in Uruzgan.
A total of 29 Australian soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan.
Women fill about 10,000 of the 81,000 regular and reserve positions in the armed forces.