**Pentagon to Lift Ban on Combat Duty for Women **
A top Pentagon official says U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is lifting the ban that keeps women from combat duty in the military.
The official says Panetta will make a formal announcement Thursday, adding that this is something Panetta has wanted to do since becoming defense chief in 2011. He already has opened 50,000 military jobs to women in the last two years.
The official says Panetta is giving military chiefs until May to draw up plans for implementing the new policy, which could open thousands of frontline combat positions to women in all U.S. military services -- Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard.
In the military, serving in combat positions remains key to career advancement. Women have long said that by not recognizing their real service, the military has unfairly held them back.
Women still may be excluded from some combat jobs in the future and will have to meet strict physical requirements for every job. The Pentagon official says the chiefs of U.S. military services will have three years to study that issue.
**Kerry to Face Confirmation Hearing Thursday **
U.S. Senator John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations committee, is set to face his peers Thursday at a confirmation hearing for his nomination as secretary of state.
The former Democratic presidential candidate is expected to face questions about his military service in Vietnam, the crisis in Syria, and the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline that would run from Canada to the southern U.S. state of Texas.
Kerry, one of the wealthiest U.S. senators, already has remedied one possible roadblock to his confirmation by promising to divest his expansive holdings in companies that could prove a conflict of interest to the nation's top diplomat. Those holdings include companies that do business with the U.S. government and others that could be affected by diplomatic decisions.
Kerry's fortune is estimated at $184 million.
Kerry is expected to easily win confirmation.