LONDON (AP) — Britain's defense minister said Friday that women should be allowed to serve in front-line army combat units, and he hopes the first will be joining within two years.
Defense Secretary Michael Fallon said roles in the armed forces "should be determined by ability and not gender."
Fallon said he had ordered an 18-month review of the physical demands of combat and combat training to make sure female soldiers will not suffer long-term detrimental effects to their health.
"I hope that, following further work on our training regimes and equipment, we can open up combat roles to women in 2016," he said.
Alison Baskerville, a war photographer who served with the Royal Air Force in Iraq and Afghanistan, called the initiative a "step forward."
Fallon's support for women in combat comes after a government-commissioned report suggested a change to the policy that has kept women out of close combat while giving them extensive roles in other aspects of military life.
However, former army officer Ashley Merry said women already are effectively serving in front-line operations and that the government initiative is simply "politically correct."
Women already serve as fighter pilots, sailors and submariners but not in the infantry and armored corps, whose primary role is close-quarters combat.
Countries including the U.S., Canada, Australia and Israel already allow women in combat roles.