Pentagon was in the dark over Donald Trump's transgender policy shift

Army Chief of Staff General Mark Milley says the Army will "act when we see directives through the proper chain of command channels", following President Trump's tweeted announcement that he's banning transgender personnel in the military.

WASHINGTON - The Pentagon appears to have been in the dark over a decision by President Donald Trump on Wednesday (July 26), announced via Twitter, not to allow transgender individuals to serve in the US military.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford, in a message to heads of the military branches, commanders and senior enlisted leaders, wrote, "There will be no modifications to the current policy until the President's direction has been received by the Secretary of Defence and the Secretary has issued implementation guidance.

"In the meantime, we will continue to treat all of our personnel with respect" he added.

Chief Pentagon spokeswoman Dana W. White in a statement said the Pentagon was "awaiting formal guidance from the White House as a follow-up" to Mr Trump's tweets.

Asked about the issue at a talk at the National Press Club, army chief of staff Mark A. Milley reiterated General Dunford's message, adding "The military operates on certain processes."

"We grow up and learn to obey the chain of command. We will work through the implementation guidance when we get it. To my knowledge, from the Department of Defence, Secretary (James) Mattis hasn't received directives yet."

General Milley said the first he heard of the President's position on the matter was when he read it in the news following Mr Trump's series of tweets on Wednesday in which he said transgender people would not be accepted or allowed to serve in the military.

The issue has been brewing however.

A June 2016 Rand Corporation study estimated the number of transgender individuals serving in the active component of the US military at between 1,320 and 6,630 out of a total of about 1.3 million service members.

Towards the end of his term in office, President Barack Obama had decided to allow transgenders to remain in the military. But earlier this month, Defence Secretary Mattis - a respected former general -delayed implementation until Jan 1, 2018, pending a review.

 
 

Media reports said Mr Mattis was under pressure from conservative activists and Republicans in Congress - citing medial costs and harm to combat readiness - to deny recruitment to transgender people, and reverse Mr Obama's decision to allow them to remain on active duty.

But President Trump's tweets have ignited a wide groundswell of outrage and threats of lawsuits from activist groups.

Asked about the issue at the daily press briefing on Thursday (July 27), White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters: "The White House will work with the Department of Defence and all the relevant parties to make sure we fully implement this policy moving forward and do so in a lawful manner."

"He (the President) was making the announcement of the policy change" she said.

A security and defence analyst e-mailing The Straits Times on condition of anonymity, wrote, "Although the president sets policy, there is an actual formal process and orders to be transmitted.

"The way he did this convinces me that this was done without any thought, except to distract the media for a few news cycles."

Glenn Altschuler, Professor of American Studies at Cornell University, told The Straits Times: "I think we are seeing more and more that the President initiates policy, or addresses policy matters, often by instinct in terms of political fallout and support from his base."