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Military eases rule on Muslim robes

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. military has dropped a rule requiring servicewomen in Saudi Arabia to wear Muslim-style head-to-toe robes whenever they leave their base.

But an Air Force fighter pilot challenging the rule in court plans to continue her lawsuit, one of her lawyers said Tuesday.

Reversing a policy in place since the 1991 Gulf War, the military now will tell servicewomen that wearing the abaya robe "is not mandatory but is strongly encouraged." Gen. Tommy Franks, head of the U.S. Central Command, e-mailed the new policy to commanders in the region Saturday.

Lt. Col. Martha McSally, the Air Force's highest-ranking female fighter pilot, sued the Defense Department over the policy in December. Her lawsuit calls the policy unconstitutional and says it improperly forces American women to conform to the Saudis' religious and social customs.

McSally's lawsuit did not inspire the policy change, Central Command spokesman Col. Rick Thomas said Tuesday.

Women are not allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia. Many restaurants, including U.S.-based fast-food chains, have separate eating areas for single men and families including women and children.