PENTAGON - U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has sent guidance to President Donald Trump on whether transgender troops should serve in the U.S. military, two days after a Defense Department deadline.
Pentagon spokesman Major Dave Eastburn has confirmed to VOA that the secretary's recommendation was sent to the president early Friday. He would not discuss details of the guidance because it was a "private matter" between Mattis and Trump.
Eastburn said the Pentagon expects Trump's policy announcement on transgender service members "no later than March 23."
During Thursday's briefing, chief Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White told VOA the issue of transgender military service was "complex" and that the secretary was "taking his time" to review the information given to him.
The Pentagon said last September that it began studying how to implement a directive by Trump to prohibit transgender individuals from serving.
Trump expressed his desire to ban transgender people from serving in the military in a string of Twitter comments in July. He said he was ordering the armed forces to stop allowing transgender individuals to serve, after consulting generals and military experts.
"Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail," the president tweeted.
Hours later, the U.S. military's top general stressed to Pentagon leaders that there had been no change to the military's policy on transgender personnel despite Trump's announcement on Twitter.
"There will be no modifications to the current policy until the president's direction has been received by the secretary of defense [Mattis] and the secretary has issued implementation guidance," the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Joseph Dunford, wrote in a memo obtained by VOA.
Federal courts rejected parts of Trump's proposed ban, which sought to overturn an Obama administration policy that said transgender troops could apply to join the military, serve openly and seek medical care.
Recruiting of transgender service members began January 1, after Trump's administration decided not to appeal federal court rulings that rejected the administration's request to put on hold a judge's orders requiring the military to begin accepting transgender recruits.
The RAND Corporation has estimated that the number of transgender individuals currently serving in the active component of the U.S. military is between 1,320 and 6,630 out of a total of about 1.3 million service members.