Ending gay ban will make US military stronger: Mullen

Mike Mullen, Robert Gates urge US senators to scrap the ban before year-end.

Washington: The US military`s top officer on Thursday said American troops are "ready" for the repeal of a ban on gays serving openly, arguing the armed forces would be stronger as a result.

Admiral Mike Mullen and US Defence Secretary Robert Gates urged senators to scrap the ban before the end of the year, saying a Pentagon study out this week showed that the change would cause no major problems for the military, even at a time of war.

"I believe that in the long run, repeal of this law makes us a stronger military and improves readiness. It will make us more representative of the country we serve," Mullen told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Mullen said the Pentagon study confirmed his belief that the military could carry out the change without disruption and that attitudes in the military have evolved since the "Don`t Ask, Don`t Tell" law was adopted in 1993.

"I believe our troops and their families are ready for this. Most of them already believe they serve or have served alongside gays and lesbians," he said.

The law, labelled discriminatory in recent federal court rulings and opposed by a majority of Americans, requires gay and lesbian troops to keep their sexual orientation quiet or face discharge from the military.

Republican senators said ending the ban posed risks to a military already under strain from wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, pointing to results of the Pentagon study that showed 40 to 60 percent of troops in combat units feared the change would have a negative effect.

"I am concerned about the impact of a rush to repeal when even this survey has found that such a significant number of our service members feel that it would negatively impact military effectiveness," Senator John McCain said.

Mullen and Gates, however, rejected the idea that the change should be postponed in wartime.

"If not now, when?" said Gates, saying he did not expect global threats to recede for the US any time soon.

Mullen said more than nine years of war since the attacks of September 11, 2001 meant the military was more flexible and more accepting of change.

"War does not stifle change; it demands it. It does not make change harder; it facilitates it," the admiral said.

The Pentagon report released on Tuesday found that a "solid majority" of troops expressed no objection to the change proposed by President Barack Obama, though members of mostly-male combat units had more concerns.