Rumsfeld Retains Aspin's Rules

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has no plans to reverse Clinton-era rule changes on women in combat that led to the death of one female soldier and the capture of two others during this year’s Iraq war, a Pentagon spokeswoman told HUMAN EVENTS.

Asked whether Rumsfeld supports changing the combat rules to stop putting servicewomen into units where they face “substantial risk of capture,” Maj. Sandra Burr, the Defense Secretary’s spokeswoman for personnel matters, replied that Rumsfeld wants to keep the rules as they are. “There are no plans to change the rules,” said Burr.

The spokeswoman gave Rumsfeld’s view days after President Bush told the Washington Times that he would defer to military commanders on the question of women in combat. “I will take guidance from the United States military,” Bush said in response to a question from a Times reporter during a public appearance with the emir of Qatar. “Our commanders will make those decisions.”

“The configuration of our force and who ought to be fighting where that’s going to be up to the generals,” said Bush. “That’s how we run our business here in the White House. We set the strategy and we rely upon our military to make the judgments necessary to achieve the strategy.”

Mother of Two

Pfc. Lori Piestewa of Arizona, the mother of two young children, was killed when her maintenance company was ambushed in southern Iraq March 23. Spec. Shoshana Johnson and Pfc. Jessica Lynch were captured by Iraqi forces in the same ambush, which took place well behind enemy lines as the Allies bypassed Iraqi forces in their storied race to Baghdad.

The three women had been sent into a combat zone with their maintenance unit almost to the front line because the Clinton Administration had abolished the so-called “risk rule” in 1993. Then-Defense Secretary Les Aspin ordered that policy change, which removed “substantial risk of capture” from the list of grounds for excluding women from certain military units (see story page 8).

Maj. Burr offered HUMAN EVENTS some of the reasoning behind Rumsfeld’s support for keeping servicewomen in situations where they were likely to see combat.

“The lines of combat have blurred over the years-the way terrorism is now, any person, male or female, can be subject to a combat situation in any environment,” said Burr. “As evidenced in Iraq, the troops that were ambushed, they weren’t engaging in combat. So it can happen at any time.”

Asked to comment specifically on the March 23 ambush-which did not occur just anywhere, but in enemy territory-Burr answered by reading from what she said was a briefing card on women in combat.

“The current policy has proven to not only provide the best opportunities for women to serve their country, but also provides the services with valuable personnel assets to meet their requirements,” she said.

The top Democrats on the House and Senate Armed Services committees-Sen. Carl Levin (D.-Mich.) and Rep. Ike Skelton (D.-Mo.)-oppose reversing the Clinton Administration rule changes on women in combat. In a written statement released to HUMAN EVENTS, Levin said that he has supported expanding the role of women in the military in the past.

“The Department of Defense has not asked Congress to consider any changes to the current law,” he added.

The House and Senate Armed Services Chairmen-John Warner (R.-Va.) and Duncan Hunter (R.-Calif.)-did not respond to HUMAN EVENTS’ inquiries.

Although the President has deferred the ultimate decision on this issue to the military, line commanders are unlikely to stake out a public position on such a politically freighted issue. Calls by HUMAN EVENTS to some members of the Joint Forces Command-a group of nine generals and admirals from the four services who fall directly beneath Rumsfeld in the U.S. military chain of command-went mostly unanswered. But a spokesman for Air Force Gen. Ralph Eberhardt, commander of NorthCom, said that military commanders do not discuss policy matters with the press.