WASHINGTON -- After earlier rejecting a proposal that he found too restrictive, Defense Secretary Les Aspin now has approved a new general policy that will allow women to serve in some ground units during combat, say Pentagon officials.
Kathleen deLaski, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said yesterday that the new policy will be announced later this week -- coming just before Mr. Aspin is scheduled to resign from his post this month.
Throughout his yearlong tenure, Mr. Aspin has pushed hard for opening up more combat opportunities for female soldiers and last April announced that women would be permitted to serve in combat aviation jobs and on warships.
Then last month, Mr. Aspin asked that a new policy for ground combat forces be put on hold for further review. He expressed concern that the new combat warfare guidelines did not definitely describe which kinds of fighting units would be opened to women.
The policy for women in ground combat had been written by the Pentagon's civilian personnel chief. Sources said that Mr. Aspin believed resistance from the Army and Marine Corps, which have long opposed allowing women to join ground combat details, had influenced formulation of the policy.
Ms. deLaski said yesterday that, after further evaluation, Mr. Aspin now is comfortable that the new policy will be as open-ended as possible for women by more clearly defining the term "direct combat" for female soldiers.
"We expect to be putting out the newly revised ground combat definition probably later this week," Ms. deLaski said. "Meetings have taken place since last week to try and make sure that he's fully satisfied with it," she said.
While she declined to discuss specifics of the new general policy, she cautioned that women will not be permitted to serve in all areas of combat action. They will not be allowed to take part in hand-to-hand fighting.
"Women are still going to be excluded from direct ground combat," she said. "So what you need is a definition of what is direct ground combat."
Once the policy is announced, it will go to the various services for their review, and officials probably will take several months to determine which specific combat opportunities will be posted for soldiers of both sexes.