Eight women finish first week of gruelling US Army Ranger test

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Eight women have successfully made it through the initial round of the US Army's gruelling Ranger School course, as commanders weigh allowing female troops to join the ranks of the elite corps, officials said Friday.

The results of the first week of the Ranger School test represented another milestone as the American military seeks to open more combat specialities to women.

Out of 19 women who started the Ranger course Monday at Fort Benning, Georgia, eight remained, army spokeswoman Cynthia Smith said.

And out of 381 men who arrived at Fort Benning this week, 184 men successfully completed the course.

The success rate for men, 48 per cent, and for the women, 42 per cent, was "within historic norms for the Ranger course," Smith said.

The first four days of the course, known as the Ranger Assessment Phase (RAP), include a tough physical fitness exam of 49 push-ups, 59 sit-ups, a five-mile run in under 40 minutes, six chin-ups, a swim test, a land navigation test and a 19km march with a 16kg rucksack in under three hours.

The army will take a decision on whether to permanently open the storied school to women after the two-month Ranger course is completed.

But senior officers have made clear standards for one of the military's most physically demanding courses will not be scaled back to accommodate women taking part.

The Marine Corps recently permitted female troops to enter infantry officer training, but no women managed to pass the difficult test.

The Pentagon has ordered all branches of the armed services to open ground combat jobs to women by 2016. The service chiefs can ask for a waiver to continue to exclude women from a particular occupational field, with the final decision up to the US defence secretary.

Apart from the Ranger school, the army is carrying out assessments for numerous combat specialities that could potentially scrap prohibitions for female soldiers.

Since 2001, female troops were often in combat in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as the conflicts had no distinct front lines.

But military rules mostly prohibit women from ground combat jobs in the infantry, tank and artillery units. And officials decided to take a second look after the experience of the past decade.

Opponents of the change say the infantry and other ground combat roles require upper body physical strength beyond the ability of most women, and that introducing female troops could prove disruptive for units that live in close quarters with little privacy.

Women are already allowed to fly US combat aircraft and fire weapons on naval ships.

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