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Pentagon chief won’t review gender integration issue until end of the year

Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter said Wednesday that it will be “some months” before he reviews service recommendations on how women should further integrated into the military. GETTY IMAGES

Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter said Wednesday that he will not review recommendations from the military services on how women should be integrated into the military for “some months,” adding that they will first go to the Pentagon’s new top military officer, Gen. Joseph F. Dunford.

Each service must provide its recommended plan on the controversial issue this week, leaving senior Pentagon officials until the end of the year to decide whether to allow the services to keep any job closed to women. The time frame was put in place with a landmark January 2013 decision in which then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta repealed a longtime ban on women serving in ground combat units, but gave the services until this fall to research the issue.

[As Marines take heat for handling of gender integration, Army stays quiet on plan]

Carter said no recommendations have been made to him yet, and he declined to characterize what each service wants.

“What they owe to, first, the chairman, and ultimately to me by the end of the year, is their analysis, their studies, and their thoughts, both about which specialties, if any, should be left closed to women,” the secretary said. “And importantly, how they intend to make any adaptations that are required.”

The issue has grown contentious at times and exposed an uncommonly public rift between Marine Corps leaders and Navy Secretary Ray Mabus.

Dunford, who became the Joint Chiefs chairman on Friday after serving as Marine Corps commandant, recommended that the service keep its infantry and at least some reconnaissance units closed to women, Marine officials said. Mabus has argued that all units should be opened, and took issue with a Marine study that found that the average woman struggled to keep up with men according to a number of metrics. That study did not track individual performance, drawing criticism from Mabus and others in favor of full integration.

Carter said that he wants to give Dunford time to review the recommendations in his new role, and expects to be “very facts-based and analysis-based” afterward once the decision reaches him.

“I want to see the grounds upon which any actions that we take at the first of the year are going to be made,” Carter said. “That’s the frame under which I’ll be looking at.”

The service secretaries—Mabus, Army Secretary John McHugh and Air Force Secretary Deborah James—were expected to send their recommendations to Carter’s office by Wednesday night. Mabus and James have in general signaled their support for opening all jobs to women who can meet the same standards as men, while senior Army officials have been more quiet in discussing their preferred plan.

[Air Force close to decisions on standards for elite combat jobs, female integration]

James said in an interview with The Post on Friday that she anticipated forwarding a recommendation that the Air Force was prepared to open all positions to women, citing work the service has done to develop gender-neutral standards. Only a few positions in the service remain closed to women, including combat controller, pararescueman, tactical air control party, enlisted special operations weatherman, special tactics officer and combat rescue officer.

“We believe we have the correct standards in place. They are extremely high,” James told The Post. “They’re the same for men and women and in addition to that, they directly relate to the job at hand.”

A spokesman for Mabus, Navy Capt. Patrick McNally, said Mabus did not seek any exceptions for either service. That again underscores his difference of opinion with the Marines.

The Army declined again to disclose what it recommended to Dunford and Carter, but confirmed that its findings have been shared.

“Nothing to add at this time,” said service spokeswoman Cynthia Smith.

Lily Cunningham contributed to this report.