The Marine Corps is planning to propose that several front-line combat jobs remain closed to women, anonymous U.S. officials said.
The news comes just as Navy Secretary Ray Mabus receives criticism from military and political leaders for dismissing an in-depth Marine Corps study that found female service members perform worse in combat operations than their male counterparts.
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The Associated Press reported:
The tentative decision has ignited a debate over whether Navy Secretary Ray Mabus can veto any Marine Corps proposal to prohibit women from serving in certain infantry and reconnaissance positions. And it puts Gen. Joseph Dunford, the Marine Corps commandant who takes over soon as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, at odds with the other three military services, who are expected to open all of their combat jobs to women. No final decisions have been made or forwarded to Pentagon leaders, but officials say Defense Secretary Ash Carter is aware of the dispute and intends to review the Marine plan. The Marine Corps is part of the Navy, so Mabus is secretary of both services.
Dunford will need to deliver recommendations to Mabus as to whether certain positions in the Marine Corps should remain closed to women, and the Navy secretary will then need to submit recommendations to Defense Secretary Ash Carter this fall.
According to officials, the Army, Navy, and Air Force are prepared to allow women to serve in all combat positions. Special Operations Command is also expected to let women compete for grueling military commando jobs, such as the Navy SEALs.
However, the nine-month Marine Corps study indicated that women are more vulnerable to injury, less accurate with weapons, and slower than men when completing tactical movements.
In response, Mabus suggested that the study’s participants and organizers were biased. He also questioned some of the report’s findings.
Sgt. Maj. Justin LeHew, a Marine war hero who helped conduct the study, labeled Mabus’ comments regarding the study "way off base" earlier this week.
"The Secretary of the Navy is way off base on this and to say the things he is saying is … flat out counter to the interests of national security and is unfair to the women who participated in this study," LeHew wrote on Facebook. "No one went into this with the mentality that we did not want this to succeed. No Marine, regardless of gender, would do that."
Rep. Duncan Hunter (R., Calif.), a former Marine officer and Iraq War veteran, also slammed Mabus as a "a political hack who cares more about doing the White House’s bidding than the combat effectiveness of the Marine Corps."
"Mabus is not only insulting the Marine Corps as an institution, but he’s essentially telling Marines that their experience and judgment doesn’t matter," Hunter said in a statement Tuesday.
Nevertheless, Mabus said Monday that he would not ask Carter for any exemptions for the Marines or the Navy SEALs.
"I think they will be a stronger force because a more diverse force is a stronger force. And it will not make them any less lethal," the Navy secretary claimed.
On Wednesday, John McCain (R., Ariz.), who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, criticized Mabus for deciding to allow women into all combat roles regardless of the results of the Marine Corps study.
"Why would you have a study if you’re going to disregard the results of it?" McCain said.
All service secretaries are required to submit their recommendations on women in combat roles to Carter by Oct.1, after which the defense secretary will make the final decisions.