Secretary of the Army John McHugh has taken back his assertion that a de facto moratorium on discharging gay troops from the military was in effect.

McHugh said Thursday he had been mistaken.

The military's gay ban on open service “remains the law of the land,” McHugh said in a statement.

The 1993 law, known as “don't ask, don't tell,” prescribes discharge for gay men and lesbians who do not remain celibate or closeted.

Speaking to reporters the day before, McHugh suggested there was a de facto moratorium on firing gay troops from the military when he said he would not dismiss soldiers who had told him they were gay.

“I was incorrect when I stated that [Defense] Secretary [Robert] Gates had placed a moratorium on discharges of homosexual service-members,” he said. “There is no moratorium of the law and neither Secretary Gates nor I would support one.”

He added that last week's softening of the guidelines under the existing law does not “in any way create a moratorium of the law.”

McHugh, a former Republican lawmaker who was appointed by President Obama, said Wednesday that moving against gay soldiers who had revealed their sexuality to him in the course of discussing upcoming policy changes would be “counter productive.”

But he reversed course the next day.

“I might better have counseled them that statements about their sexual orientation could not be treated as confidential and could result in their separation under the law,” he said.

McHugh, however, added that he was “unable to identify these soldiers and I am not I a position to formally pursue the matter.”

Gates has ordered a year-long review on how best to implement changes should Congress repeal the law. McHugh said a third party would likely be used to solicit the views of gay troops.

“The working group is likely to utilize a third party from outside of the department to solicit these views so soldiers can speak candidly and without fear of separation,” he said.

“I urge every soldier to share his or her views and suggestions on this important issue through this channel,” he added.