(WASHINGTON) -- Defense Secretary Leon Panetta will lift a long-standing ban on women serving in combat, according to senior defense officials.
The move was not expected this week, although there has been a concerted effort by the Obama administration to further open up the Armed Forces to women.
Women have been officially prohibited from serving in combat since a 1994 rule that barred them from serving in ground combat units.
Panetta's decision will set a January 2016 deadline for the military service branches to argue that there are military roles that should remain closed to women.
In February 2012 the Defense Department opened up 14,500 positions to women that had previously been limited to men and lifted a rule that prohibited women from living with combat units. Panetta also directed the services to examine ways to open more combat roles to women. However the ban on direct combat positions remained in place until now.
In 2011 the Obama administration also ended the "don't ask, don't tell" policy that had prohibited gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military.
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