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ARLINGTON, Va. — The Army is following Pentagon policy barring the assignment of women to units whose primary mission is ground combat, but the policies are difficult to understand, according to new study of the issue.

The study, which was recently issued by the Washington-based RAND Corporation, also says that there is no consensus among senior defense officials about the objectives of the two policies.

“Neither the letter nor the spirit of the policies is clear,” said Margaret Harrell, the report’s lead author.

The main problem, Harrell said Friday, “appears to be that the policies do not anticipate the style of combat experienced in Iraq, where there is no clearly defined battlefield.”

After lawmakers voiced concern about the number of female servicemembers, particularly soldiers, dying in Iraq, Congress directed the Pentagon to conduct the study as part of the 2006 defense budget authorization bill.

As of July 21, 76 female U.S. servicemembers have died in Iraq, including 62 soldiers, according to Army Lt. Col. Jonathan Withington, a Pentagon spokesman.

At the heart of the report is whether the Army’s modular unit design, which has reshuffled the traditional structure of Army combat units, is violating the rules on women in combat. Many of the new team’s companies include women.

The DOD policy on the assignment of women in combat, which has been in force since 1994, directs that women be assigned to all positions where they are qualified, but excludes them from assignments to “units below the brigade level whose primary mission is to engage in direct combat on the ground.”

The Army, meanwhile, has a separate, more restrictive policy created in 1992 that excludes women from jobs that are “assigned a routine mission to engage in direct combat, or which collocate routinely with units assigned to a direct combat mission.”

After reviewing the Army and DOD policies, researchers found that while “the DOD policy is sufficiently clear to assess that the Army is in compliance,” Harrell said, the two polices have different definitions of key terms such as “enemy,” “forward or well-forward,” and “collocate.”

They recommended that DOD revise its assignment policies for women “to provide greater clarity and to better reflect the changing nature of warfare,” according to the study.

The report is now in the offices of David Chu, the Pentagon’s undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, where officials will work with the Army’s deputy chief of staff for personnel to reviewing its conclusions, Withington said.

For the time being, Withington said, Pentagon officials do “not anticipate any change in careers, assignments, or professional opportunities for women in the military as a consequence of this review.”

The RAND report “Assessing the Assignment Policies for Army Women," is available at www.rand.org.

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