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Women in combat: Will they have to register for the draft?

That may be a difficult question from a societal standpoint, but the answer is straightforward, according to a legal analysis. On Thursday, the Pentagon will lift its ban on women in combat.

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US Army Spc. Gloria Camacho (l.) attends a Christmas Eve service at the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) base in Kabul, Afghanistan. The Pentagon will now let women serve in combat roles.

Musadeq Sadeq/AP/File

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Now that the Pentagon is lifting its ban on women in combat, does this mean that women could potentially be drafted, too?

And as a practical matter: When women turn 18, will they now need to register, as men do, so that they can be conscripted in the event of a World War III, or any military emergency where the US government decides it needs troops quickly?

It’s a thorny question, raising what may be a difficult prospect societally. But the legal implications are obvious, analysts argue.

“The answer to that question is clearly yes,” says Anne Coughlin, a law professor at the University of Virginia School of Law in Charlottesville. “The legal argument is clear: If it comes to that kind of wrenching emergency where we have to press young people into service, there is no legal justification for saying that men alone need to shoulder that burden.”

The wars of the past decade in Iraq and Afghanistan have been fought by an all-volunteer force, since the US military discontinued the draft in 1973. Males between the ages of 18 and 25, however, are still required to register for the Selective Service.

Once the combat exclusion policy is lifted, “My belief is that if we open up combat arms to women, even on a voluntary basis, if there is a draft, we should be able to force women into those positions,” says retired Col. Peter Mansoor, a professor of military history at the Ohio State University in Columbus and a former US Army brigade commander who served two tours in Iraq. 

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