Inhofe: Pentagon leaks about women in combat ‘unacceptable’

Oklahoma Republican Sen. James Inhofe, the incoming Ranking Member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, expressed outrage over the leak that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s will lift the ban on women in combat Wednesday.

“It is unacceptable that information on the Defense Department’s plans related to women in combat was leaked prior to Congress being briefed,” Inhofe said. “As a result we don’t yet know the details of this announcement.”

Inhofe said in a statement that he spoke with Deputy Secretary of Defense Ash Carter Wednesday and expects Panetta to go forward with expanded opportunities for women in the armed services, but that he believes there will be some limits.

“I do not believe this will be a broad opening of combat roles for women, because as the 2012 report indicated, there are ‘serious practical barriers which must be resolved so that the department can maximize the safety and privacy of all military members while maintaining military readiness,'” he explained.

While the Oklahoma senator expressed frustration at the leak, he spoke highly of women’s abilities in the military and noted that he served on the House Armed Services Committee with Les Aspin, a former Wisconsin congressman and secretary of sefense under President Bill Clinton.

“In 1994 as the Secretary of Defense, [Aspin] opened opportunities for women to be assigned to all positions for which they are qualified except units below the brigade level whose primary mission is to engage in direct ground combat,” Inhofe continued. “Since he opened these opportunities, women have demonstrated their abilities to serve with distinction, in some cases making the ultimate sacrifice for their country. For instance, women currently fly combat missions in tactical aircraft. As a flight instructor, I have flown with both men and women, and their skill sets are the same.”

Wednesday The Associated Press reported that Panetta will use one of his last acts as defense secretary to open front-line, combat jobs to women.

“This policy change will initiate a process whereby the services will develop plans to implement this decision, which was made by the secretary of defense upon the recommendation of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,” an unnamed senior defense official said.

Michigan Democratic Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said he is in favor of the plan.

“I support it,” said Levin, according to the Detroit Free Press. “It reflects the reality of 21st-Century military operations.”

The official announcement is expected Thursday, according to the AP.

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