A federal lawsuit filed by four service members Tuesday challenges the Pentagon's longstanding policy barring women from serving in direct combat positions. Here are the issues:
What is the current policy regarding female troops?'
The 1994 combat exclusion policy bars women from being assigned to ground combat units, which are smaller and considered more dangerous since they are often in the thick of battle for longer periods of time than the other units.
What are the arguments for letting women fight on the front lines?
Supporters of lifting the ban say women are already being wounded or killed in war, and the policy keeps them from being recognized for their battleground experience, which could lead to promotions and higher pay. They also say the policy hurts the U.S. military by limiting the chances of qualified women to move into more senior leadership ranks.
What do opponents say?
Opponents include some female troops who question whether women are physically capable of handling the rigors of being assigned to ground combat units. The first two women to volunteer for the Marine Corps' grueling 13-week infantry training course at its base in Quantico, Va., were unable to complete it. The Corps will open the course again to female volunteers in January.
What does the military’s top brass say?
Military leaders say they want to make sure lifting gender-based barriers would not disrupt the cohesion of the smaller combat ground units and military operations. The Marine Corps' top leader, Gen. James Amos, ordered a survey of 53,000 troops to get their views, including whether they believe women in those units would distract male Marines from doing their jobs. The results have not been released yet.
How close do women get to the front lines?
The blurred front lines of modern warfare, with suicide bombs and sniper attacks, have put more and more women in combat situations. More than 144 female troops have been killed and more than 860 have been wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan since the wars began according to Pentagon statistics. Roughly 20,000 of the 205,000 service members currently serving in Afghanistan are women.