A few quibbles: “The Batman” is a moniker usually uttered by the superhero’s enemies, not his allies. Most important, Lara Croft wouldn’t be allowed to participate. She is, after all, a woman.
The policy against women assigned to ground combat units has been in effect since the beginning of the U.S. military. (Regulations forbidding women to serve as crew members of planes and ships engaged in combat weren’t even lifted until the mid-’90s.) But as circumstances change — asymmetric wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; higher numbers, expanding opportunities and growing visibility of women in uniform — it’s becoming increasingly clear that the next blow against the military’s bulletproof glass ceiling will be directed against the ban on women in Special Forces.
This point was underscored almost three weeks ago when, in the middle of the night, a 79-person team made up of CIA operatives, intelligence experts and aforementioned Special Forces soldiers executed a successful raid on bin Laden’s suburban Pakistani hideout. Although President Obama, CIA Director Leon Panetta and the roughly two dozen Navy SEALs who participated in the raid have received most of the adulation, there was most likely a significant female element to the operation.
“I can guarantee you that women were involved,” says Kirsten Holmstedt, author of “Band of Sisters: American Women at War in Iraq.” Paula Broadwell, an Army reservist with experience in special ops and author of an upcoming biography on her mentor, Gen. David H. Petraeus, agrees: “Most likely they weren’t the helo pilots, and they definitely weren’t the SEALs, but they were probably involved in the planning, in CIA operations on the ground and other important roles.”
Last year, a pilot program of “cultural support teams” was instituted to begin integrating women into higher-risk support roles among special ops forces in Afghanistan. The Pentagon refuses to comment on what roles, if any, women might have played in the Abbottabad raid.
Rules and reasons
For years, female service members — and the Defense Department itself — have been able to get around the prohibition against women in combat. In Iraq and Afghanistan, it is taboo for Muslim women to interact closely with adult males outside their family, and thus American women have acted as intermediaries for their male counterparts. Female service members are also overseeing checkpoints, interacting with members of local communities and gathering intelligence. There are also all-female teams, sometimes called “lioness teams” or “forward engagement teams,” who pair up with infantry and, if circumstances demand, bust out the big guns.