Women could assume combat roles in the US army for the first time as early as this year, following a landmark decision by defense secretary Leon Panetta to lift a military ban on women serving on the frontline.
The groundbreaking move could open up hundreds of thousands of frontline positions, and could see women working in elite commando units.
One official told the Associated Press, which revealed details of the move, that military chiefs will report to the Pentagon on how to integrate women into combat roles by 15 May.
Panetta's decision was hailed as a "historic step" by one senator and could eventually open up 230,000 jobs to female military personnel. The Pentagon had previously opened around 14,500 combat positions to women in February 2012, but females were still prevented from serving in the infantry, in tank units and in commando units.
Women, although banned from serving in combat roles, have been heavily involved in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past 12 years, serving as pilots, military police, intelligence officers and other roles attached to, if not formally part of, frontline units. By last year, around 130 women had died and 800 had been wounded since the wars began