White House says Obama supports women in combat

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WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama says allowing women to serve in combat marks another step toward the country's founding ideals of fairness and equality.

Obama says in a written statement he expressed strong support for the decision to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who lifted the combat ban Thursday.

Obama says he is confident the decision -- coupled with the recent repeal of the ban on gays in the military -- will strengthen the U.S. military.

The president says, quote, "Today, every American can be proud that our military will grow even stronger, with our mothers, wives, sisters and daughters playing a greater role in protecting this country we love. "