2001 war author­ity enough: U.S. lead­ers

Winnipeg Free Press - - NEWS - RICHARD LARD­NER

WASH­ING­TON — Se­nior United States na­tional se­cu­rity of­fi­cials told Congress on Mon­day that the 2001 war au­tho­riza­tion for com­bat oper­a­tions against ter­ror­ist groups is legally suf­fi­cient — and warned that pre­ma­turely re­peal­ing the law could sig­nal Amer­ica is “back­ing away from this fight.”

Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son and De­fence Sec­re­tary Jim Mat­tis tes­ti­fied be­fore the Se­nate For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee three months af­ter they in­formed the panel the post-Sept. 11, 2001 law gave the mil­i­tary am­ple author­ity to fight ter­ror­ist groups and a new one was un­nec­es­sary.

A sep­a­rate au­tho­riza­tion for the war in Iraq ap­proved by Congress in 2002 also re­mains in force.

The two men said if Congress does pur­sue a new au­tho­riza­tion for foes such as Islamic State group mil­i­tants, it’s im­per­a­tive the ex­ist­ing law not be re­scinded un­til a new one is fully in place. Tiller­son and Mat­tis also said that any new war au­tho­riza­tion, like the ex­ist­ing one, should have no ge­o­graphic or time re­stric­tions so as not to tip the en­emy off.

“Though a state­ment of con­tin­ued con­gres­sional sup­port would be wel­come, a new (war au­tho­riza­tion) is not legally re­quired to ad­dress the con­tin­u­ing threat posed by al-Qaida, the Tal­iban and ISIS,” Mat­tis said. But end­ing ex­ist­ing laws pre­ma­turely “could only sig­nal to our en­e­mies and our friends that we are back­ing away from this fight.”

Their ap­pear­ance be­fore the com­mit­tee comes as the deadly am­bush in Niger is ig­nit­ing a push among many law­mak­ers to up­date the le­gal pa­ram­e­ters for com­bat oper­a­tions over­seas.

A grow­ing num­ber of con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans and Democrats, many of whom were star­tled by the depth of the U.S. com­mit­ment in Niger and other parts of Africa, have been de­mand­ing a new au­tho­riza­tion for the use of mil­i­tary force. They’ve ar­gued that the dy­nam­ics of the bat­tle­field have shifted over the past 16 years.

Sen. Jeff Flake, a Repub­li­can from Ari­zona, noted that none of the 21 mem­bers of the com­mit­tee were mem­bers of the Se­nate when the 2001 war au­tho­riza­tion was ap­proved. Flake and Sen. Tim Kaine, a Virginia Demo­crat, are spon­sor­ing leg­is­la­tion for a new war author­ity for oper­a­tions against the Islamic State group, al-Qaida and the Tal­iban.

Flake said he un­der­stood the re­luc­tance ex­pressed by Mat­tis and Tiller­son not to tele­graph when U.S. troops might de­part a par­tic­u­lar war zone. But he said that con­cern is “over­whelmed in a big way by not hav­ing Congress buy in, and us not hav­ing skin in the game.”

“It sim­ply al­lows us to crit­i­cize the ad­min­is­tra­tion, Repub­li­can or Demo­crat, if we don’t like what they’re do­ing be­cause we haven’t weighed in,” Flake said.

Kaine said last week he be­lieved most Amer­i­cans would be sur­prised by the ex­tent of the oper­a­tions in Africa that U.S. forces are in­volved in.

“I don’t think Congress has nec­es­sar­ily been com­pletely kept up to date — and the Amer­i­can pub­lic, I think, cer­tainly has not,” Kaine said af­ter leav­ing a clas­si­fied brief­ing con­ducted by se­nior Pen­tagon of­fi­cials on the as­sault in Niger.

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