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Deadlier than the male or a wartime liability?

THE Government is squaring up for a battle with armed forces chiefs over plans to give women soldiers combat roles.

Field trials carried out by the Army in Wales in the autumn were reported to have shown that women could serve effectively alongside men in almost all combat situations.

The Ministry of Defence said no decision will be taken until after the full findings of the study are presented to Ministers in the spring.

Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon is widely believed to be sympathetic to the women's cause, but the Chief of Defence Staff, General Sir Charles Guthrie, warned last week the Chiefs of Staff would not do anything which damaged the effectiveness of the armed forces.

At present, women can't serve in infantry or armoured units.

YES: Clive Fairweather backs women on the front line

FORMER SAS colonel Clive Fairweather believes women who are physically fit for the task should be allowed to fight on the front line.

Retired for six years after a lengthy career in the army, he said: "I have no problem with the idea of women serving in the infantry, as long as they are trained and are fit enough.

"But I think the public will have a problem with women in battles because that would lead to female casualties.

"I imagine that would be unacceptable to public opinion.

"In war, you have to be prepared for close-quarters combat and that means going in at the sharp end with the bayonet.

Vile

"I never got to the point where I had to do that but I served with men who had and they told me it was a vile business.

"Battles and wars are all a dirty, horrible, vile business.

"If women want to volunteer to be at the sharp end with a bayonet, then let them.

"There are arguments that a mixed-sex platoon is less effective because if a woman is wounded, the platoon stops to help her where an all-male platoon will carry on .

"I don't agree with that. When the bullets start flying you look out for only one person and that's yourself. A pretty face won't make any difference.

"I think the situation would have to change drastically for women soldiers in combat to be acceptable to the public.

"You would need a case like Israel which had women soldiers in the front line but that was when that nation was fighting for its very existence.

"The situation in Britain is very different."

Clive Fairweather is now Chief Inspector of Prisons in Scotland.

NO: Paul Beaver explains why he thinks it's a bad idea

RESPECTED military commentator Paul Beaver thinks women on the front line would harm our armed forces.

The spokesman for the Jane's defence publications explained: "The Army has no problem with women serving in its ranks. They have served successfully for over 50 years.

"But they have not served in the front line, in the fighting units in the infantry and in the Royal Armoured Corps.

"The idea that they should serve with these units horrifies most of the military - it was probably thought up by a human-rights lawyer with a CND background and it takes equality to an extreme.

"There can be nothing more politically incorrect than sticking a bayonet into someone.

"The Americans and the Israelis had women in infantry combat units but they have withdrawn them.

"There is the embarrassment factor if you have mixed- sex crews cooped up in close quarters in tanks or mobile howitzers.

"There are no facilities in them and mixing the sexes would only cause problems.

"There are also practical problems, mainly of size and strength for the infantry. An infantry soldier has to be able to carry a huge amount of equipment and ammunition.

"Although modern warfare is thought of as being push-button high-technology, an infantry soldier still has to carry all his equipment on his back and march with that weight.

"The Americans have discovered that they had had to spend millions of pounds in modifying equipment to suit women.

"For example, they have had to alter the ejection seats in fighter planes to account for the lighter weight of an average female pilot against the average weight of a male pilot.

"The military are happy for women to serve in roles other than front line combat and I think the public would not accept women in roles that involved killing - and, of course, being killed."
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Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Dec 27, 2000
Words:738
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