WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- U.S. armed forces leaders said on Tuesday that women should be required to register for the military draft, along with men, as the military moves toward integrating them fully into combat positions.
Congress should begin to look at legislation requiring women to register for the Selective Service, they told a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on women in combat.
"I think that all eligible and qualified men and women should register for the draft," said General Robert Neller, the commandant of the Marine Corps.
The U.S. military is currently an all-volunteer force, but young men are still required to register in case the draft is reactivated.
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The military leaders at the hearing said it would take years for women to be fully integrated into combat units, although they generally voiced strong support for the plan to skeptical committee members.
"Full integration will likely take several years," Patrick Murphy, acting secretary of the Army, said.
Mark Milley, the Army chief of staff, estimated that full integration of women would take "no less than one to three years of deliberate effort."
President Barack Obama's defense secretary, Ash Carter, announced in December that the military would let women serve in all combat roles, a historic announcement greeted with intense skepticism by many Republican members of Congress.
Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona, the committee's chairman, objected to the announcement at the time. He said it would have "a consequential impact" on U.S. forces and their war-fighting capabilities.
At Tuesday's hearing, McCain again expressed doubts, saying he worried there had not been enough planning before the announcement. "I am concerned that the department has gone about things backwards," McCain said.
Some Republican critics of the plan have said they fear it would lead to the imposition of quotas mandating a specific number of women in some units, such as Marines in positions that might require hand-to-hand combat.
Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus rejected that suggestion as "unacceptable," adding, "It would endanger not only the safety of Marines, but also the safety of our nation."
Many Democrats have expressed strong support.
Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island, the top Democrat on the panel, said physical abilities alone do not determine whether a military unit is effective.
"Fighting and winning wars, as I'm sure our panelists know well, involves much more than that," Reed said.
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