Gay campaigners are calling on the US to repeal its ban on openly gay military recruits after a report on the Iraq War highlighted the importance of language experts, some of whom have been sacked for being gay.

Warning that “all of our efforts in Iraq, military and civilian, are handicapped by Americans’ lack of language and cultural understanding,” the Iraq Study Group, a panel of ten bi-partisan experts convened to examine military strategy in the war in Iraq, emphasised in a report last week the importance of recruiting and retaining language experts.

The group’s report follows a February 2005 study by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), which found the armed forces have fired more than 300 language experts under the “Don’t Ask, Don’t

Tell” ban on lesbian, gay and bisexual service members, including more than 50 who were fluent in Arabic. Servicemembers Legal Defence Network (SLDN), in light of those studies, has called on White House officials to reconsider their support for the military’s ban.

“There is no doubt that ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ is hampering our ability to fight the war in Iraq and the war on terror,” said SLDN executive director C Dixon Osburn. “Nearly five dozen Arabic translators have been turned away from the armed forces in the last decade, not because they cannot do their jobs, but simply because of their sexual orientation. As our commander-in-chief, President Bush should be alarmed by the effect this law has on our military readiness. The White House must put the success of our military operations ahead of federal bigotry and work with Congress to dismantle the military’s ban.”

The Iraq Study Group panel said the Pentagon and CIA have too few people with the language skills to operate effectively in Iraq, and said that problem has hampered intelligence gathering. Those agencies, the report noted, must institute better personnel policies to keep experienced employees on the job.

Statistician Gary Gates, with the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law, recently reported that at least 41,000 gay Americans may sign up for duty if the military’s ban were lifted. Gates has also estimated that 65,000 lesbian and gay service personnel are currently serving in the armed forces.

“One of the most effective ways of retaining good soldiers is to reverse the law that mandates firing qualified troops who happen to be gay,” said Mr Osburn.

“Repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ is the best way to keep the 65,000 gay service members who are already on duty today. Repeal could also bring in thousands of new recruits who are eager to enlist once the official ban on their service is gone. When we lift the ban, our nation will become safer and more secure.”