General David Petraeus, the Commander of the United States Central Command, has said that he supports a review of the US ban on out gay soldiers.

He stopped short of calling the 1993 law discriminatory, but his remarks were the most candid he has made on the matter.

Gen Petraeus, who is managing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, told the Senate Armed Forces Committee yesterday he wanted to see a “thoughtful and deliberate” review.

He said: “I think it should be done in a thoughtful and deliberative matter that should include the conduct of the review that Secretary [Robert] Gates has directed that would consider the views in the force of a change in the policy.

“It would include an assessment of the likely effects on recruiting, retention, moral and cohesion and would include an identification of what policies might be needed in the event of a change and recommend those polices as well.”

He was asked whether he thought lifting the ban would harm morale, to which he replied that it could go either way.

Last week, the general told CNN he had been “wrestling” with the issue.

He said: “My thinking on this matter, I’ve been wrestling with this. A lot of us have. We’ve done a lot of personal soundings.

“We’ve looked at the 25 or so countries, including Australia, UK, Canada, Israel. Some pretty good militaries that have all integrated, if you will, gays and lesbians into their militaries, but had very sensible and pragmatic policies. I think that has been the key to the success of their efforts.”

President Barack Obama and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen support repeal of the law, which allows gay soldiers to serve as long as they kept their sexual orientation secret.

If they reveal it, or are outed, they can be fired. Around 13,000 soldiers are believed to have been discharged under the law. In addition, their partners are not informed if they are killed or injured in action.

The year-long review has begun.