Marine Gen. John Kelly on Friday said he fears that commanders will be pressured by "agenda-driven people" in Washington to lower military standards in order to allow more women into combat positions.
"My greatest fear — and we see this happen a lot over the 45 years I've been in the Armed Forces is, right now they're saying we are not going to change any standards," said Kelly, who is retiring this month, at his last Pentagon briefing.
Kelly, commander of U.S. Southern Command, predicted the pressure to lower standards will come due to the low numbers of women who will end up in combat roles.
"There will be great pressure, whether it's 12 months from now, four years from now, because the question will be asked whether we've let women into these other roles; why aren't they staying in those other roles; why aren't they advancing as infantry people?"
"The answer is, I think will be, if we don't change the standards, it will be very, very difficult to have any numbers — any real numbers come into the infantry, or the Rangers or the SEALS," he said.
Kelly also said young women would be more prone to injuries due to the nature of infantry combat.
"The other aspect is, because of the nature of infantry combat, infantry training, and all of rest, there's a higher percentage of young women in the scientific study that get hurt, and some of them get hurt forever," he added.
After then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta lifted the ban on women serving in combat in 2013, the services were ordered to open all positions previously closed to women by January 2016, or ask for exceptions.
The Marine Corps was the only service to ask for an exception to allowing women to serve in the infantry, which set off a fight between the Marine Corps and its backers in Congress and Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, who is the service secretary for the Marine Corps and backed opening all jobs to women.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter rejected the request for an exemption, and has ordered all the services to open every position to women.
Kelly said he believes every decision should be based on whether it would make the military more lethal on the battlefield.
"So if you look at anything we are contemplating doing, does it make us more lethal? If the answer to that ... is yes, then do it," he said. "If the answer to that is no, clearly don't do it. If the answer to that is, it shouldn't hurt, I would suggest that we shouldn't do it, because it might hurt."
However, he noted that since the Marines were ordered to open the infantry to women, it would happen anyway.
"So that's in my opinion. The way I think you do this is, since we're all ordered to do it, is you simply do it."