WASHINGTON—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. "